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Posts Tagged ‘Larry Jagan

Officers fear a coup on road to vote

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Officers fear a coup on road to vote

Larry Jagan, Foreign Correspondent

Last Updated: March 29. 2009 8:30AM UAE / March 29. 2009 4:30AM GMT

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BANGKOK // Myanmar’s leader has warned political parties planning to contest elections scheduled for next year that they must shun foreign ideologies.

“Democracy in Myanmar today is at a fledgling stage and still requires patient care and attention,” Gen Than Shwe said in an address to troops assembled in Naypitdaw, the capital, to celebrate Armed Forces Day.

“We have to ensure that the progress of democracy in the country does not affect non-disintegration of the union and non-disintegration of national solidarity.”

Gen Than rarely speaks in public except at the annual Armed Forces Day, which marks the day in 1945 when the army of Myanmar, also known as Burma, launched its resistance fight against the Japanese occupation forces. But this year’s celebration is different, as it may be the last before the country is ruled by a civilian government – which would be the first since 1962.

Beneath the pomp and ceremony, and the show of strength and harmony, there are signs of splits and dissension within the ranks over the army’s future role in the country as well as over the country’s political future and the road map to democracy.

The last three stages of the seven-stage road map to democracy, announced in Aug 2003, could dramatically change the role of the army as it involves free and fair elections and the convening of the national and provincial parliaments, followed by the establishment of a developed and democratic nation under the new parliament and constitution.

A battle is emerging between those who control most of Myanmar’s assets and those who see themselves as the country’s guardians.

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On one side are the ministers and members of the ruling State Peace and Development Council, who have major business interests and are associated with Gen Than’s brainchild, the mass community-based organisation, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA). They have been running the government for nearly a decade and have accumulated massive wealth.

On the other side are the middle- and top-ranking generals, who graduated from the Defence Services Academy, as did their mentor, second-in-command Maung Aye. They see their main role as the protector of the people, and are anxious to see the military machine transformed into a professional army and withdraw from politics and the economy. They have become dismayed at the excessive corruption within government and understand that it is undermining the army’s future role in the country.

As the conflict between these two groups escalates, Gen Than’s deteriorating health and increasing reclusiveness have effectively left the country without a real leader. The result is inertia in government administration.

“Everyone is trying to second guess the big boss, and all critical decisions are being deferred until they are sure he has actually given them the go-ahead,” said a European businessman who was recently in Naypitdaw.

There is also fear that one of the contesting factions may launch a “soft coup” in the near future, according to military sources in Myanmar. But the real army, as these officers see themselves as, is going to have to act quickly if it is to remain a force to be reckoned with.

In the new political environment, the USDA will play a crucial role: either as the key pro-military party or an intermediary between the army and whatever political party emerges. All this will significantly increase its power and control over the country’s new political process.

Senior members of the army are increasingly resentful of the growing dominance of Gen Than’s USDA and the likely curtailment of the army’s authority in the months leading up to the election.

“When the new parliament is elected, it will bring an abrupt end to the army’s absolute power,” said a Myanmar government official.

These ministers and top USDA officials have all amassed huge personal fortunes from smuggling and kickbacks. “These fellows are out of control and raking in the money from bribery and fraud; no one can touch them,” a military source in Myanmar said. “They are building enormous war chests while they can. Some will use it for the elections, but there are others who are reluctant to squander their ill-gotten wealth on the election campaign.”

Many in the army are concerned that this group is planning a grab for power using the USDA as a front.

There is also resentment and frustration among junior officers in the ministry of defence, many of them divisional commanders.

“They are watching their unscrupulous colleagues hiding behind the uniform, building up massive fortunes from corruption in government, and they are worried that this is tarnishing the image of the army as a result,” a source in Naypitdaw said.

Although the grumbling and resentment have increased, there are still no signs of a coup.

“There is no doubt that many in the army are extremely unhappy with they way things are going, and are concerned about what will happen to them after the elections,” said Byo Nein, the son of a former government minister and a Thailand-based writer who follows Myanmar’s military affairs.

“But they are army officers and will continue to obey their orders unquestioningly.”

So far there is little to suggest that they are planning a purge of their opponents in the same way that the former prime minister, Khin Nyunt, and his intelligence apparatus were crushed five years ago.

“Nothing can be ruled out at this stage as resentment and anger is growing among the junior officers and the rank-and-file soldiers,” said Win Min, an independent analyst based at Chiang Mai University in northern Thailand.

ljagan@thenational.ae

http://www.thenational.ae/article/20090329/FOREIGN/106071163/-1/NEWS

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

March 29, 2009 at 4:20 pm

Rohingya: A regional problem

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Rohingya: A regional problem

Solving the problem of Burmese Muslim refugees will take the full efforts of several of the region’s organisations

By: Larry Jagan
Published: 22/02/2009 at 03:40 AM
Newspaper section: Spectrum

“The Rohingya issue is a very complicated challenge to the entire region of Southeast Asia,” Mr Surin told Spectrum in an exclusive interview. “Asean happens to be a foremost regional organisation aspiring to evolve into a community of caring societies, so it has to be an issue of concern to Asean.”

The Rohingya issue featured prominently in bilateral talks in the region last week. US Secretary for State Hillary Clinton discussed it during meetings with both the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and the foreign minister, Hasan Wirajuda. Army chief Anupong Paojinda reportedly raised the issue with the Burmese junta’s leader General Than Shwe when he visited the Burmese capital Naypyidaw earlier in the week, while Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva also compared notes with his Indonesian counterpart during his visit to Jakarta.

“We are going to find a suitable way to raise the Rohingya issue during the Asean meeting,” said a Foreign Ministry spokesman. “But it may not be discussed formally at the summit.”

But this is unlikely to satisfy activists and human rights groups who believe that unless there is a strong political will on the part of the region’s leaders at the forthcoming summit to seriously tackle the issue, the problem will be left to fester.

INTERNATIONAL CONCERN: Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after their meeting in Jakarta.

“The Rohingya issue is a cross-border problem that cannot be handled by one country alone, it needs a regional response,” Yap Swee Seng head of a regional human rights group, Forum-Asia, told journalists last Thursday ahead of the Asean summit. “While it may be discussed on the margins of the Asean leaders’ meeting, what is needed is a formal consultative meeting of Asean, including Bangladesh and India, who have both been affected by the exodus of Rohingya from Burma.”

Thailand and Indonesia have already agreed that the problem will be referred to the Bali Process after the summit. In fact, the Indonesian and Australian foreign ministers, who chair the international group, have already agreed that the next annual gathering will discuss the Rohingya issue. This year’s Bali Process meeting is expected to be held next month, or early in April. “We discussed and welcomed the fact that the question of the Rohingya will form part of the discussion at the forthcoming ministerial meeting of the Bali Process,” Australia’s Foreign Minister Stephen Smith told reporters in Sydney last week, after a meeting with his Indonesian counterpart.

“The Bali Process is a very attractive and viable option for the region to get together, to discuss the Rohingya issue,” Mr Surin suggested. “Asean member states affected by the problem can come together and pool their expertise and resources to put this problem into a proper context and manage it together.”

The Bali Process brings together more than 50 countries, mainly Asian, and at ministerial level, to work on practical measures to help combat people smuggling, people trafficking and related transnational crimes in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. “It is primarily a process and framework for information sharing and training of officials, in law enforcement and drafting legislation, in connection with the smuggling and trafficking of people and other crimes,” said Chris Lom, the regional spokesman for the International Organisation of Migration (IOM), based in Bangkok. IOM and the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are part of the secretariat and help facilitate the group’s meetings.

MEET AND GREET: Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva compared notes with his Indonesian counterpart.

The Bali Process was originally set up at the Regional Ministerial Conference on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime, held in Bali in February 2002.

“The region has faced these kinds of challenges many times before, including the [Vietnamese] boat people in the 1970s, but more recently the influx of people fleeing conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran,” Mr Surin said. “That was the origin of the Bali Process, with Australia very much an active participant in the regional efforts to manage that human tide floating across the Indian Ocean.”

Thailand has been forced to take the lead on the issue after allegations that more than 1,000 Burmese-Muslim illegal immigrants were intercepted in Thai territory and cast adrift in three separate incidents on the high seas in several boats, with little food and water, and their engines disabled or removed. Some of the survivors ended up back in Thailand, some made it to India’s Andaman islands, while others drifted as far as the Indonesian island of Sumatra before being rescued. Many of them accused the Thai authorities of abusing them and treating them inhumanely.

REGIONAL INVOLVEMENT: Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith and Indonesian Foreign Minister Dr Hassan Wirajuda speak at the opening session of the Australia-Indonesia Conference in Sydney.

The refugees were on their way to Malaysia, according to activists and UN officials who have had access to the survivors. Most of them paid the equivalent of 10,000 baht to smugglers who promised to get them to Thailand on the first stage of their trip to a better life. “They would then pay Thai traffickers a further 20,000 baht or so to get them to Malaysia,” said Chris Lewa, who works with the regional Arakan Project, which monitors the situation of the Burmese Muslims, both in Arakan state and those who try to escape the country.

The refugees are members of the ethnic Rohingya Muslim minority, who live in northern Arakan state, in western Burma bordering Bangladesh. They have fled social and religious persecution by the Burmese military authorities there. Most human rights activists believe that the abuses committed by the junta in the Muslim-dominated areas of western Burma are worse than anywhere else in the country.

“Burma’s Rohingya minority is subject to systematic persecution. They are effectively denied citizenship, they have their land confiscated, and many are regularly forced to work on government projects without pay,” said Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty International’s Burma researcher. “They are often prevented from marrying or conducting religious ceremonies. They are also effectively prevented from travelling within the country as well. The regime creates conditions and circumstances that make it clear to the Rohingya that they are not wanted or welcome, so it’s no surprise that they try to flee the country by the thousands.”

MILITARY MIGHT: Burma’s Senior General Than Shwe, left, and Thailand’s General Anupong Paojinda.

Thousands make the hazardous two-week journey from Bangladesh at this time of year  –  between November and April  –  when the seas are not so rough. “We cannot tolerate the suffering any more. We would rather risk going to sea than stay and perish little by little,” one of those who fled Burma and ended up in Thailand told Spectrum. “Live or die; it’s up to Allah.”

More than 5,000 Rohingya have left Bangladesh in the past four months, according to researchers at the Arakan Project. Some have managed to make it to Malaysia, but several thousand Rohingya refugees may have perished in the Andaman Sea in pursuit of freedom and a better life, said Mr Lewa.

The danger now is that by relying on the Bali Process to sort out the problem of the Rohingya boat people, the issue will be treated as people smuggling rather than as a result of persecution.

“It is important that they [the Rohingya] are clearly identified, not just as economic migrants who have been trafficked,” said a UN worker who has interviewed many of the survivors of the latest incidents, but declined to be indentified. “They are asylum seekers escaping oppression, the denial of their rights, violence, land confiscation and religious persecution.”

“UNHCR would like to point out that being trafficked or smuggled does not preclude persons also having a legitimate claim to being a refugee,” said the regional spokesperson for UNHCR, Kitty McKinsey. “Often people fleeing persecution have no way out of their country other than to resort to smugglers or traffickers.”

The root cause of this latest exodus from Burma is the junta’s treatment of its Muslim minority, especially in Arakan state. The regime refuses to accept that they are Burmese citizens. “In reality, the Rohingya are neither Myanmar people nor Myanmar’s ethnic group,” the Burmese consul general in Hong Kong, Ye Myint Aung, wrote in a letter circulated to the press. And what is more they are “ugly as ogres”, he added.

The issue of Burma’s Rohingya has proved an intractable problem in the past. More than a quarter of a million fled massive human rights violations at the hands of the Burmese army. More than 200,000 ended up in camps in Bangladesh in Cox’s Bazaar from 1991 to 1993, largely in the care of UNHCR. Although the UN managed to negotiate a repatriation agreement between Burma and Bangldesh, many thousands remained in Bangladesh, and many of those who returned to Arakan simply fled again at the first opportunity.

So the countries of the region, with the help of the UN and several Middle Eastern countries, especially Saudi Arabia, have tried in the past to help resolve this problem. But all efforts have floundered, largely because of the intransigence of Burma’s military rulers. At the height of the last mass exodus of Burmese-Muslim refugees from Arakan more than 15 years ago  –  the then Bangladesh foreign minister, Mustifizur Rahman (now deceased) said that the Rohingya issue could never be solved while the generals were still in power in Burma.

Many analysts and activists would agree. But that is no excuse for not trying, according to Asian diplomats.

“Countries have always been reluctant to deal with this challenge on their own. They are even hesitant to bilateralise the problem. So as a region we must try to face the challenge as a region,” Mr Surin said.

“Our image, our profile, and our efficiency as a regional organisation, are being tested by the current Rohingya phenomenon. Strong leadership and a determined political will are needed.”

http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/investigation/136770/rohingya-a-regional-problem

Related:

Man arrested in Rohingya case

By THE NATION ON SUNDAY
Published on February 22, 2009

A foreign national has been arrested for alleged involvement in the trafficking of Rohingya boat people, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) said yesterday.

The suspect, identified as 42-year-old Safi Ammad, was arrested on Friday for allegedly smuggling as many as 1,000 migrants into Thailand, including the Rohingya from Burma and Bangladesh, DSI spokesman Police Colonel Narat Sawettanant said.

Ammad, a roti-seller, denied any wrongdoing. Police remain unsure whether he is a Burmese or Bangladeshi national.

The DSI yesterday requested court permission to detain the suspected trafficker for an initial 12-day period until March 4 pending further investigation, Narat said, adding that the DSI had also asked the court not to grant bail for fear that the suspect might flee or tamper with evidence.

Narat yesterday reported progress in the investigation into the “threat to national security”, saying many groups involved in the smuggling of Rohingya were also involved in drug dealing and passport and ID-card forgery.

In a related development, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva yesterday called on the international media to provide evidence to back up allegations that the Thai military had abused Burmese migrants, Agence France-Presse reported from Jakarta.

Abhisit, who was on a visit to Indonesia, said Thai authorities have not uncovered “the kind of abuse claimed by some of the people that have spoken to the international media.”

Speaking after meeting Asean Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan, the PM said: “I insist that if the international media have evidence otherwise they should submit it to the Thai government and the human-rights commission, which is an independent body in Thailand.”

Thailand faces criticism over claims that its security forces have abused Rohingya migrants, hundreds of whom have been rescued in Indian and Indonesian waters in recent.

http://nationmultimedia.com/2009/02/22/national/national_30096289.php

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

February 22, 2009 at 1:55 am

Posted in Varieties in English

Tagged with ,

World focus on Burma (18 February 2009)

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Win Tin affirms commitment to ethnic unity
Democratic Voice of Burma, Norway –
This is because many of those detained are elected members of parliament and leaders such as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, U Tin Oo, Khun Tun Oo, Min Ko Naing and …

NLD Reiterates Call for Dialogue
The Irrawaddy News Magazine, Thailand –

By WAI MOE Burma’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), has reiterated its calls for unconditional dialogue between its leader, …

Wa Businessman Flees Drug Charges
The Irrawaddy News Magazine, Thailand –
Many of Aik Hawk’s investments have been tainted by association with Burma’s booming drugs trade. In the late 1990s, Aik Hawk bought shares in Myanmar …

Than Shwe Meets Thai Army Chief
The Irrawaddy News Magazine, Thailand –
Thai Supreme Commander Gen Songkitti Jaggabat visited Burma in January to talk with the junta on the Rohingya boat people issue. Songkitti met with Maung …

More:

Quintana Flies to Naypyidaw
The Irrawaddy News Magazine, Thailand –
… NLD has not been notified by the Burmese authorities about whether the envoy will meet with its party heads or with detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi. …

More:

NLD calls for dialogue without preconditions

Democratic Voice of Burma, Norway –
“Based on this, if the secretary-general himself comes to Burma to make the situation better, the NLD will welcome his trip in accordance with our policy of …

Burmese Junta Sees Satellite TV as Threat
The Irrawaddy News Magazine, Thailand –

… daily The New Light of Myanmar, and “Don’t Continuously Water a Poison Plant!” in the Burmese-language newspapers, Myanma Alin and The Mirror. …

Turning the global spotlight on landmines ‘Activist’ documentary …
Targetwire (press release), UK –
Guest panellists include Nobel Prize Winner, Jody Williams, Steve Goose, Programme Director at Human Rights Watch, and the Ambassador of Columbia.

Does US Plan Greater Engagement with Burmese Regime?
The Irrawaddy News Magazine, Thailand –
By AUNG ZAW US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the new administration in Washington is reviewing its policy on Burma, prompting pundits to wonder …

Clinton Arrives in Indonesia
The Irrawaddy News Magazine, Thailand –

… she said, “We want to see a time when citizens of Burma and the Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi can live freely in their own country.”

Cookbook stirs up some satire in its ‘Axis of Evil’ recipes
Canada.com, Canada –
… “Axis of Evil” states North Korea, Iran, and Iraq; hotspots Israel, India, Pakistan, Cuba, China, Burma (Myanmar); and “Great Satan,” the United States. …

Documentary festivals feed need for non-fiction
St. Louis Post-Dispatch,  United States –
He pointed to the festival entries “Burma VJ,” about video bloggers in the repressed country that’s now called Myanmar, and “Reporter,” about the New York …

Myanmar ultimately accountable for refugees
Daily Trojan Online, CA –
The problem of refugees ultimately starts with the failure of a neighboring country to recognize a group’s human rights. The Myanmar government denies the …

Panel Discussion and Art Exhibit in Support of People of Burma a …
Putnam County News and Recorder (subscription), NY –
On Valentine’s Day the world descended on Beacon, in support of the plight of Aung San Suu Kyi and the people of Burma. Beacon received them with a generous …

Clinton Offers Words of Reassurance While in Japan
New York Times, United States –
Fielding a question from a student about American economic sanctions against Myanmar, formerly Burma, Mrs. Clinton acknowledged that the policy had not …

Clinton Warns North Korea on Missile Test
조선일보(영문판), South Korea –

In Jakarta, she is expected to urge the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations to work for improved human rights in Burma. In Tokyo on Tuesday, …

Human Rights Organization Calls on UN to Intensify Efforts for change in Burma
Journal Chrétien, France –

… Secretary-General to ramp up efforts to facilitate meaningful dialogue between Burma’s military regime, the democracy movement and ethnic nationalities. …

Bangkok Post : The UN’s ‘showboat’ mission to Burma
Bangkok Post, Thailand –

He still hopes to meet detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi before he leaves the country tomorrow, according to UN sources. …

Burma Cuts Jail Terms
Radio Free Asia, DC –


Families wait for relief outside homes destroyed by Cyclone Nargis, May 5, 2008. AFP Myint Thwin also voiced concern about nine other youths detained at …

Hillary Clinton Says US Still Weighing Possible Myanmar Policy Changes
Gant Daily, PA –
“We are conducting a review of our policy,” the top US diplomat told a Tokyo University student from Burma, officially known as Myanmar, who asked whether …

Clinton Vows to Reach Out to Islamic World
Washington Post, United States –
… house arrest Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Prize-winning democracy activist. “We’re looking at what steps could influence the current Burmese government, …

A question of resiliency
Fiji Times, Fiji –
Recently I read an article in which the author referred to Fiji as in danger of becoming the “Burma of the South Pacific.” I was reflecting on this as I …

Clinton: US seeking more effective policy on Myanmar
RTT News, NY –
Myanmar was known as Burma, until it was changed in 1989 by the military regime. Washington’s policy on the Myanmar junta under the Bush administration was …

Campaigner tells UN: Independent verification of rights abuse needed
Mizzima.com, India –
Meanwhile, Burma’s state-run newspaper, New Light of Myanmar on Sunday accused the Karen National Union of launching shell attacks on the Thai-Burmese …

Rite seeks to absolve Thaksin of ‘past life bad karma’
Nation Multimedia, Thailand –
She announced that in his previous life, Thaksin was a local warrior king who committed sins by killing his Burmese enemies and taking their money and …

Donors turn blind eye on corruption
Pacific Daily News, GU –
Then-President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, sided with Burma’s pro-democracy groups while more liberal donor groups called for engagement with Shwe. …


Myanmar’s spoiled vote for democracy

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Southeast Asia, May 1, 2008

Myanmar‘s spoiled vote for democracy
By Larry Jagan

BANGKOK – On May 10, Myanmar holds a national referendum on a new constitution, a charter which very few of the military-run country’s citizens have actually seen and one which the media and commentators are barred from publicly criticizing in the run-up to the vote. If passed, the charter will move the country into a new political era, though one still firmly controlled by the military.

Myanmar‘s military rulers are leaving little to democratic chance, as they apply restrictions and processes to orchestrate a “yes” vote, which by most international standards will not be considered a free and fair referendum. To be sure, without opinion polls, public sentiment is hard to gauge in Myanmar‘s tightly controlled society.

The vote significantly represents the first time since 1990 general elections, which military-backed candidates resoundingly lost to the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), that Myanmar‘s voters will go to the polls. The military famously annulled the 1990 election results and set in slow motion a 14-year process for drafting a new charter aimed at paving the way for new general elections.

There are competing interpretations of what the vote actually means. Some analysts believe both rural and urban voters, frustrated by the government’s severe mismanagement of the country, will overwhelmingly vote “no” as an expression of their discontent.

“They see it as a referendum on the military government; so expect a resounding ‘no’ from them,” said a Western aid worker in reference to rural voters in the country’s main central rice growing area. “It’s the first opportunity since the 1990 election that they have had to express themselves,” she said.

Others view it differently. “I’m going to vote ‘yes’ because I’m tired of the top brass running the country, and doing it very badly,” said a military colonel who wanted to remain anonymous due to concerns over his personal safety. “It’s time to get them out of government and a new constitution is the only sure way of doing that,” he added.

“You don’t need to read the constitution to know its simply conferring power on the military for eternity,” said an elderly Burmese academic who likewise wanted to remain anonymous. “The choice is simple – a vote in favor of adopting the constitution means we want the military to play the leading role in politics and run the county,” he said.

For its part, the military has repeatedly promised the referendum will be transparent, fair and systematic. Political opposition groups and diplomats, meanwhile, have expressed strong concerns that the results could easily be rigged in the military’s favor.

For instance, the regime has already said the results at each polling station will not be announced, even at a provincial level. The only announcement of the vote’s result will come from the military’s equivalent of an electoral commission in the new capital of Naypyidaw. “This is very different from the 1990 elections, when the election results were made public at each local polling station,” said Zin Linn, a former political prisoner and now spokesman for the Burmese government in exile. “It means they will be able to manipulate the results to their own ends.”

Adding to those concerns is the fact that the general public, not to mention the political opposition, will not be allowed to scrutinize the actual vote counting. A senior general recently told military and government officials in Yangon that only the last ten voters before the polls close would be allowed to stay and witness the actual count.

“These last 10 voters who can monitor the counting of the votes by the poll commission members will certainly be members of the Union Solidarity and Development Association, who Than Shwe has given the job of running the referendum and getting the result he wants,” said Win Min, a Burmese academic at Chiang Mai University in northern Thailand.

See no evil

Significantly, international election monitors have been banned from overseeing the vote and it is likely that only a few regime-friendly foreign journalists will be given visas to cover the referendum. Foreign monitoring is essential if the referendum is to have any international credibility, the former United Nations rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar, Paulo Pinheiro, told Asia Times Online in an exclusive interview.

“After decades without an election, at least international observers could verify the conditions of the vote,” said Pinheiro, who served in his UN capacity for seven years through April this year. “And the UN has a unit that just deals with elections, but the military government has refused their help.”

“I’ve been following political transitions throughout the world, including Asia for more than 30 years and I am yet to see a successful transition to democracy without a previous phase of liberalism,” he said. “There isn’t the faintest sign of that yet in the case of Myanmar.”

Indeed, state-run newspapers are predictably flush with statements endorsing the new constitution. “To approve the state constitution is a national duty of the entire people, let us all cast a ‘yes’ vote in the national interest.” Meanwhile the local media have been forbidden from reporting the “no” campaign, which has been perpetuated on the Internet and by political opposition groups.

The government has issued orders banning any criticism of the new constitution and violations are punishable with a possible ten-year jail sentence. Those who have dared to defy those orders have come under physical attack by pro-government thugs and at least twenty young NLD members have recently been arrested for wearing T-shirts that read “Vote No”.

The NLD has nonetheless launched a vigorous campaign in opposition to the constitution. “For the people who have the right to vote, we would like to encourage again all voters to go to the polling booths and make an ‘x’ [no] mark without fear,” the NLD urged voters in statement released to the press last week. It nonetheless portrayed the process as a sham. “An intimidating atmosphere for the people is created by physically assaulting some of the members of [the] NLD,” its statement read.

International observers endorse that assessment. “The whole process is surreal – to have a referendum where only those who are in favor of the constitution can campaign,” said Pinheiro in an interview. “A referendum without some basic freedoms – of assembly, political parties and free speech – is a farce. What the Myanmar government calls a process of democratization is in fact a process of consolidation of an authoritarian regime,” he said.

The new constitution took more than 14 years to draft, a tightly controlled process that excluded the NLD’s participation. The actual constitution was only revealed to the public a few weeks ago and is now on sale at 1,000 kyat per copy – the equivalent of US$1 in a country where more than eight out of 10 families live on less than $2 a day. Even then it’s nearly impossible to find copies, according to Western diplomats who in recent days have scoured the old capital of Yangon in search of the document.

Under the proposed constitution the president must hail from the military, while one-quarter of the parliamentary seats will be nominated by the army chief and key ministries under the military’s control, including the defense and interior portfolios. According to the charter’s text, the army also reserves the right to oust any civilian administration it deems to have jeopardized national security.

NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi, meanwhile, will be barred from politics under the charter because she was married to a foreigner, the eminent British academic and scholar of Tibet and Buddhism, Michael Aris, who died of prostate cancer in 1999. Nonetheless, the military is pitching the passage of the new charter as a step towards multi-party democracy, as laid out in the junta’s seven-stage roadmap to democracy.

The junta’s second in command, General Maung Aye, recently told a parade of new recruits that the constitution would pave the way for democracy. “Comrades, it is the Tatamadaw [military] that is constantly striving for the emergence of a constitution capable of shaping the multi-party democratic system,” he told the army recruits last week.

But even if the junta fixes the referendum’s results in its favor, it will face other major challenges in the run-up to general elections in 2010. That includes the formation of a transition government, which will entail the wholesale sacking of the current military cabinet, many of whom have entrenched business interests protected by their positions. It also in theory must allow new political parties to be formed and freely associate and campaign to contest the 2010 polls.

These steps will all likely be delayed substantially if there is a significant “no” vote at next week’s referendum. While the real vote count may never be made public, top military leaders will know whether or not voters support their envisaged transition to a form of military-led democracy. Depending on how the people vote, a negative result could cause Than Shwe and other top junta officials to yet again redraw their political reform roadmap.

Larry Jagan previously covered Myanmar politics for the British Broadcasting Corp. He is currently a freelance journalist based in Bangkok.

(Copyright 2008 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing .)

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

April 30, 2008 at 1:12 pm

Posted in Varieties in English

Tagged with , ,

Junta clamps down on tourist visa journalists

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Junta clamps down on tourist visa journalists

Burma’s military junta is apparently preparing to seal the country off as popular anger against the regime and the constitutional referendum it plans to hold on May 10 grows visibly in Rangoon and other cities, writes Edward Loxton for The First Post.

Foreign journalists who covered the September demonstrations and their aftermath – this correspondent included – have crossed, and continue to cross, into Burma posing as tourists. But Burmese embassies are urgently trying to clamp down on the practice.

Several journalists have reported problems obtaining visas, as Burmese embassies scrutinise every application. Two Japanese citizens suspected of being journalists were denied entry at Rangoon airport today. (The Japanese video cameraman famously shot by a Burmese soldier at the height of the September demonstrations had entered on a tourist visa, the government claimed at the time.)

Even diplomats and UN personnel are being kept waiting for visas, while Ministry of Information officials comb carefully through their applications. “The regime is clearly getting very nervous as May 10 approaches and opposition to the referendum and the draft constitution increases,” said a European diplomat in Bangkok.

The junta has every reason to be nervous, according to Bangkok Post writer Larry Jagan, reporting on a wave of demonstrations across Burma at the weekend. In Rangoon, about 20 monks led demonstrators in a march on the city’s Shwedagon Pagoda, central focus of September’s demonstrations. Police herded them away from the site without incident.

Other demonstrations were reported in the major Andaman Sea port of Sittwe and some other towns. Jagan quoted a Burmese businessman as saying: “The country is a social volcano, ready to erupt. All it needs is a spark to ignite it.”

Jagan, a seasoned Burma commentator, reported major splits within the ruling junta. “Gen Than Shwe‘s immediate subordinate, Gen Maung Aye, is increasingly disaffected with his boss, feeling that he is allowing rampant corruption to bankrupt the country,” he wrote.

Last September, Maung Aye was widely reported to be unhappy with the brutal way the regime suppressed the demonstrators. At one point during the crisis, a division of crack troops awaited his order to rebel – but the order never came.

FIRST POSTED APRIL 29, 2008

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

April 30, 2008 at 2:56 am

Factions within junta draw battle lines

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Bangkok Post, 26 March 2008

BURMA

Factions within junta draw battle lines

LARRY JAGAN

Tomorrow is Army Day in Burma _ the moment the country’s military leaders show a united front in a pompous ceremony in the new capital, Naypyidaw, that is held every year. The junta chief, Senior General Than Shwe, has imported another new Mercedes Benz to stand in as he leads the parade. He brought a new one in last year for the same occasion.

 

But underneath this show of unity is the start of a new battle for Burma’s future. This time it is not between the monks and the military, as it was last year, but between two factions in the army.

 

In the past few months a major rift has emerged within Burma’s military government over the country’s political future. At the centre of the conflict is who should control the roadmap _ Burma ‘s plans for political change.

 

The confrontation is now beginning to take shape _ between those who are currently in control of Burma’s government and the country’s economic wealth, and those who see themselves as the nation’s guardians and wish to protect the country from unscrupulous officials.

 

The junta is no longer cohesive and united, as two major camps have clearly emerged. On one side there are the ministers and members of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) who have major business interests and are associated with Gen Than Shwe’s brainchild, the mass community-based Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA).

 

On the other side are the top ranking generals _ loosely grouped around the second in command, General Maung Aye _ who want a professional army and see its main role as protector of the people.

 

They have become increasingly dismayed at the corruption within government and understand that it is undermining the army’s future role in the country.

 

As the war between these two groups begins to escalate, Gen Than Shwe’s rapidly deteriorating health has effectively left the country without a real leader. The result is total inertia in government administration and a growing fear that one of the contesting factions may launch a ”soft coup” in the near future, according to Burmese military sources.

 

But the ”real” army, as these officers under Gen Maung Aye view themselves, is going to have to act quickly if it is to remain a force to be reckoned with.

 

The planned referendum for May and the election in two years’ time will radically change the country’s political landscape.

 

The USDA, which is organising both the referendum and the elections, will significantly increase its power and control over the country’s new emerging political process.

 

Senior members of the army are increasingly resentful of the growing dominance of the USDA and the likely curtailment of the army’s authority after the May referendum. ”It will bring an abrupt end to the army’s absolute power,” said a Burmese government official.

 

At the centre of this emerging battle for supremacy is the growing division within the army between those who graduated from the Officers Training School (OTS) like Gen Than Shwe, and those who went to the Defence Services Academy (DSA) like Gen Maung Aye.

 

Many cabinet ministers associated with the USDA are from the OTS, as are several hardliners within the ruling SPDC, though some no longer have operational commands. These leaders are known to have the ear of Gen Than Shwe and have convinced him to take an uncompromising stand against detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD).

 

These key ministers, including Industry Minister Aung Thaung, Fisheries Minister Maung Maung Thein (who is also head of the powerful Myanmar Investment Commission), Construction Minister Saw Htun and Agriculture Minister Htay Oo (who is also a key leader of the USDA), are notorious hardliners and amongst the most corrupt members of the government.

 

They have all amassed huge personal fortunes from smuggling and kickbacks. ”These fellows are out of control and racking up the money from bribery and fraud _ not even Maung Aye, who despises excessive corruption, can touch them,” a Burmese military source told the Bangkok Post on condition of anonymity.

 

Everyone seems powerless to stop them at present, according to Burmese government sources. ”They are known as ‘the Nazis’ within the top ranks of the army,” according to a Burmese businessman with close links to the military hierarchy. ”They have the money and they have their own militia.”

 

Many in the army now fear that this group _ with some senior officers in the SPDC, current or former heads of the Bureau of Special Operations (BSO) _ are planning a grab for power using the USDA as a front. ”They are the real enemies of the people,” said the Burmese businessman.

 

There are growing numbers within the army that are viewing these developments with increasing concern. There is mounting resentment and frustration amongst the junior officers in Naypyidaw. Many of the junior officers are divisional commanders, aged between 47 and 55. These are the army’s ”young Turks”, who are alarmed at the way in which the USDA is growing in influence at the expense of the army.

 

”They are watching their unscrupulous colleagues, hiding behind the uniform, building up massive fortunes from corruption in government and they are worried that this tarnishes the image of the army,” said a source in Naypyidaw.

 

”It’s time to get rid of the OTS bastards,” an officer recently told a visiting businessman. But so far there are no signs of a palace coup. Many officers may feel aggrieved, but there is no open discussion as yet about doing anything in practice. ”The climate of fear that pervades the whole country is also prevalent in the military,” according to a Thai military intelligence officer.

 

This resentment is going to continue to simmer. They know that after the referendum in May their position will become increasingly less significant, as ministers and selected military generals move into the USDA and take up civilian roles in the future. At the same time they fear that widespread corruption will also destroy the country and its political stability.

 

”The ‘real’ army is the only institution that can bring genuine democracy to the country in the future,” a military man told the Bangkok Post. ”The new generation of officers represent the real hope for the country.” They would be open to a political dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi, he insisted, as they see themselves as the real guardians of the country.

http://www.bangkokpost.com/News/26Mar2008_news27.php 

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

March 26, 2008 at 4:18 pm

Splits emerge in Burma’s army over country’s roadmap

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(Analysis)

Larry Jagan
Mizzima News
March 21, 2008

There is a growing rift within Burma’s military government over the country’s political future and road-map to democracy. A battle is now beginning to emerge between those who are currently in control of most of Burma’s assets and those who see themselves as the country’s true guardians. Several key members of the ruling junta are secretly being investigated for corruption.

Once in State Peace and Development Council (File Photo:Mizzima)

The junta is no longer cohesive and united, as two major camps have clearly emerged. On one side there are the ministers and members of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) who have major business interests and are associated with Than Shwe’s brainchild, the mass community-based Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA).

On the other side are the top ranking generals, led by second in command Maung Aye, who want a professional army and see its main role as protector of the people. They have become increasingly dismayed at corruption within the government and understand that it is undermining the army’s future role in the country.

As the war between these two groups escalates, Senior General Than Shwe’s rapidly deteriorating health has effectively left the country without a real leader. The result is total inertia in government administration and a growing fear that one of the contesting factions may launch a “soft coup” in the near future, according to Burmese military sources.

But the “real” Army, as these officers view themselves, is going to have to act quickly if it is to remain a force to be reckoned with. The planned referendum for May and the election in two years time will radically change the country’s political landscape. The USDA, which is organising both the referendum and the elections, will significantly increase its power and control over the country’s new emerging political process.

Senior members of the army are increasingly resentful of the growing dominance of the USDA and the likely curtailment of the army’s authority after the referendum in May. “It will bring an abrupt end to the army’s absolute power,” said a Burmese government official.

At the center of this emerging battle for supremacy is the growing division within the Army between those who graduated from the Officers Training School (OTS) like Than Shwe, and those who went to the Defence Services Academy (DSA) like Maung Aye.

Many Cabinet ministers associated with the USDA are from the OTS, as are several hardliners within the ruling SPDC, though some no longer have operational commands. These leaders are known to have the ear of Than Shwe and have convinced him to take an uncompromising stand against detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD).

These key ministers, including Industry Minister Aung Thaung, Fisheries Minister Maung Maung Thein (who is also head of the powerful Myanmar Investment Commission), Construction Minister Saw Htun and Agriculture Minister Htay Oo (who is also a key leader of the USDA), are notorious hardliners and amongst the most corrupt members of the government.

They have all amassed huge personal fortunes from smuggling and kickbacks. “These fellows are out of control and racking up the money from bribery and fraud – not even Maung Aye, who despises excessive corruption, can touch them,” a Burmese military source told Mizzima on condition of anonymity.

They have been in government now for over eight years and are entrenched in their lifestyles and practises. Everyone seems powerless to stop them at present, according to Burmese government sources. “They are known as ‘the Nazis’ within the top ranks of the army,” according to a Burmese businessman with close links to the military hierarchy. “They have the money and they have their own militia,” he added.

Many in the army now fear that this group – with some senior officers in the SPDC, current or former heads of the Bureau of Special Operations (BSO) – are planning a grab for power using the USDA as a front. “They are the real enemies of the people,” said the Burmese businessman.

But there are now growing numbers within the army that are viewing these developments with increasing concern. There is mounting resentment and frustration amongst the junior officers in the Ministry of Defence in the new capital of Naypyitaw (Nay Pyi Taw).

Many of the junior officers are divisional commanders, aged between 47 and 55. These are the army’s “young Turks,” who are alarmed at the way in which the USDA is growing in influence at the expense of the army.

“They are watching their unscrupulous colleagues, hiding behind the uniform, building up massive fortunes from corruption in government and they are worried that this tarnishes the image of the army,” said a source in Naypyitaw.

“It’s time to get rid of the OTS bastards,” an officer recently told a visiting businessman. But so far there are no signs of a palace coup. Many officers may feel aggrieved, but there is no open discussion as yet about doing anything in practise. “The climate of fear that pervades the whole country is also prevalent in the military,” a Thai military intelligence officer told Mizzima.

“There is no doubt that many in the army are extremely unhappy with they way things are going, and are concerned about what will happen to them after the referendum and the elections,” he said. “But they are army officers, and will continue to obey their orders unquestioningly,” he said.

Yet there are now signs that the top few generals under Than Shwe may be beginning to form an informal alliance against the USDA leadership – and possibly Than Shwe himself. These are the deputy chief of the military, Maung Aye, Chief of Staff Thura Shwe Mann, Prime Minister Thein Sein and Secretary One of the SPDC, Tin Aung Myint Oo.

So far there is little to suggest that they are planning a purge of their opponents in the same way that former Prime Minister Khin Nyunt and his intelligence apparatus were crushed four years ago. “Nothing can be ruled out at this stage as resentment and anger is growing amongst the junior officers and rank-and-file soldiers,” said Win Min, an independent analyst based at Chiang Mai University.

But a pre-emptive strike against some of the key people in the USDA is definitely underway. Fisheries Minister Maung Maung Thein and the BSOs, Maung Bo and Ye Myint, are being secretly investigated by the Bureau of Special Investigations over bribery, kickbacks and illegal smuggling, a source inside the regime told Mizzima.

Maung Maung Thein and Maung Bo are under intense scrutiny for allegations of smuggling. At least 90 percent of the fish caught in Burmese waters are smuggled out through Thailand, especially Ranong, according to informed industry sources. Burma is estimated to be losing more than $500 million as a result.

For more than six months now the Myanmar Investment Commission, also controlled by Maung Maung Thein, has refused to grant import and export licenses to those in the construction industry to anyone not part of the USDA, according to Burmese businessmen. Licences granted for construction projects are crucial for the economy. For example, licenses are obtained to import cars and trucks theoretically needed for a construction project but instead sold for a massive profit.

Several other ministers and members of the SPDC and their families are also under investigation, according to government sources. Maung Maung Thein’s infamous son, Ko Pauk (Myint Thein) had his timber business dissolved a few weeks ago for malpractice. Maung Bo’s son’s business, the Hurricane Bar, is also under investigation concerning drugs.

There are many other businesses and businessmen affiliated with USDA members being investigated, including the Managing Director of Asia Light, Soe Myint.

This has not happened in the past and indicates the concern the top military commanders have about corruption and what it is doing to the army’s reputation. “It’s an effort to distinguish between the government or USDA and the army,” a senior military man told Mizzima.

Most of this is still behind closed doors. There is still no open confrontation between the two camps. In part that is because the SPDC quarterly meeting has been continuously postponed by Than Shwe for fear that it may open up a war between himself and his top subordinates.

One of the main reasons the ruling council has not met for more than nine months is that Than Shwe is trying to avoid the meeting as he knows Maung Aye will demand the resignations of at least four of the BSOs – including Maung Bo and Ye Myint. The last meeting reportedly ended when Maung Aye refused to accept Than Shwe’s recommendation that Maung Bo be promoted to a full general, according to Burmese military sources.

At least two of them have since been removed from their commands – Khin Maung Than and Maung Bo being replaced by Khin Saw and Tha Aye (both graduates of the DSA) and Myint Hlaing is soon expected to replace Tin Aye. However, although they no longer have operational command for their regions they remain on the SPDC, imposed by Than Shwe.

If these three BSA commanders and DSA officers also replaced their predecessors on the SPDC it would radically change the composition of the council. Four years ago, with the support of his OTS men, Than Shwe’s authority was unchallenged – but with these new promotions Maung Aye and Thura Shwe Mann would effectively control the SPDC.

As a result of the constant postponement of the SPDC quarterly meeting all promotions within the army have ground to a halt. “The top generals have not met [for the quarterly meeting] for months, since before the August and September protests. So during that time, apart from the appointment of three regional commanders, there have been no promotions,” said Win Min.

“The impact of this will certainly add to the growing frustration amongst some of the commanders who should have already been promoted,” he said.

Time is now running out for the top generals under Than Shwe if they are to take control.

They know that after the referendum in May their position will become increasingly less significant, as Ministers and selected military generals move into the USDA and take up civilian roles in the future. At the same time they fear that widespread corruption will also destroy the country and its political stability.

“The real Army is the only institution that can bring genuine democracy to the country in the future,” a military man told Mizzima. “The new generation of officers represent the real hope for the country.” They would be open to a political dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi, he insisted, as they see themselves as the real guardians of the country.

In the meantime, Than Shwe’s health is rapidly deteriorating and he is fast losing his memory. He is increasingly withdrawn and reclusive. His position is now becoming progressively more perilous, despite his carefully planned schemes, according to many specialists on Burma’s military.

“It is not worth risking a crisis when nature may solve it for us legally and peacefully,” Maung Aye recently told some of his close confidantes. But with the referendum only weeks away the army may yet have to move against the corrupt USDA lobby before it’s too late.

 

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

March 21, 2008 at 4:22 pm