Sydney Morning Herald – UN chief says Burma election lacks credibility
AFP – SE Asia should ‘de-dollarise’, but slowly: experts
The Age – Global drug gangs outpacing nations
Asian Correspondent – Thai Army raises security measures, as Burma’s situation at risk
Otago Daily Times – Ex-political prisoner speaks of freedom
The Australian – Aung San Suu Kyi’s power on the wane as Burmese junta arranges election
EarthTimes – Sanctioned Myanmar company buys out Thai owner of hotel
People’s Daily Online – Myanmar to construct railroad to link deep-sea port with China
MedIndia – As Healthcare Crumbles, Myanmar’s Poor Fall Prey to Malaria
Bernama – Illegal Immigrants Claim Syndicate Members Threaten Them With Pistols
Bernama – MMEA Detain Four Foreign Vessels For Illegal Oil Transfer
Irish Sun – My childhood in Burma
The Nation – Opinion: No plans to send back Burmese refugees
Xinhua – First national web portal formally launched in Myanmar cyber city
The Irrawaddy – Burmese Businesses not Ready for AFTA
The Irrawaddy – NLD and Ethnic Leaders Tour Kachin State
The Irrawaddy – New Intelligence Chief Undertakes Major Overhaul
Mizzima News – Voices from the electorate
Mizzima News – Editor faces 13 years behind bars
DVB News – New initiative reignites Burma tourism debate
Sydney Morning Herald – UN chief says Burma election lacks credibility
October 17, 2010

NEW YORK: United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed ”grave concern” at the Burmese junta’s refusal to free opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi before an election next month.

The UN chief accused the government of being ”slow and incomplete” in meeting political commitments and said its refusal to hold talks with the international community was ”deeply frustrating”.

In a report on human rights in Burma, Mr Ban made repeated calls for the military government to free Ms Suu Kyi if it wanted the November 7 election to have any international credibility.

She has spent most of the past two decades under house arrest. Her National League for Democracy (NLD) won the last election in 1990 but she was never allowed to take power.

The junta has banned the NLD from the coming poll.

The UN leader said that since he visited Burma in July 2009, the government had shown ”some signs of flexibility”, releasing more than 130 political prisoners last year.

”However, the detention of other political prisoners and the continued house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi remain of grave concern,” he said in the report, calling for ”respect for the fundamental freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association for all citizens, including engagement in political debate and access to the media”.

He called for other countries, particularly Burma’s neighbours, to apply more pressure and said contacts with opposition groups continued outside the country.

The junta has banned 10 parties, including the NLD, from the election but 42 parties have registered.

SE Asia should ‘de-dollarise’, but slowly: experts
by Michelle Fitzpatrick – Sun Oct 17, 3:42 am ET

PHNOM PENH (AFP) – Southeast Asian countries that rely heavily on the dollar might be alarmed at its recent steep decline, but analysts warn against sudden moves to reduce their dependence on the greenback.

In Cambodia, the dollar is far more prevalent than the riel, the local currency, while neighbouring communist-run Laos sees shoppers paying for goods in kip, dollars or even Thai baht.

In communist Vietnam, the local dong is popular enough, but dollars still account for 20 percent of all currency in circulation there. And in Myanmar (Burma) a volatile domestic currency has left locals distrustful of the kyat.

“Not a single Burmese person I have ever met has savings in the local currency,” said Myanmar economics expert Sean Turnell from Australia’s Macquarie University.

Such heavy reliance on the greenback is known as “dollarisation” and reflects “a general lack of confidence in the local currency”, said Jayant Menon, principal economist at the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

The dollar has fallen sharply in recent weeks, but analysts say the US currency’s woes are unlikely to immediately affect the use of domestic currencies much in these Asian nations.
It might, however, influence the way people in these countries save or store wealth.

“In Vietnam it could result in a greater switch to gold. In Laos, a move to baht,” said Menon.

“The long-term objective for these countries should be to de-dollarise,” said the economist, who has co-authored a new book about dollarisation in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

But reducing reliance on the greenback can only work if governments address the underlying problems that caused the shift in the first place, he said, and for now the dollar is still “a safer bet”.

Reliance on the dollar has benefits — it can bring stability to an otherwise volatile market and makes it more difficult for governments to simply print money to make up for budget shortfalls, according to experts.

But it also limits the power of central banks to control the money supply or determine exchange rate policies.

“Before the global financial crisis, a lot of these countries, especially Cambodia and Vietnam, had inflation building up and central banks couldn’t do much in terms of mopping up the extra liquidity to try and keep inflation in check,” said Menon.

“In a funny way, the global crisis was a bit of a blessing when it comes to controlling inflation because demand fell off sharply and these countries were then able to control inflation.”

Another downside to dollarisation is that these countries lose out on seigniorage — the revenue accrued when the cost of printing money is lower than the face value of that money.

The ADB estimates that Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam miss out on 20 to 90 million dollars a year this way, with impoverished Cambodia being the biggest loser. That income instead goes to the United States, where the money is printed.

But Hang Chuon Naron, secretary general of the Cambodian government’s Supreme National Economic Council, defended his country’s reliance on the US currency.

“Because of dollarisation, people are not scared to put money in the bank,” he said. “And it imposes discipline on the government.”

Still, while “de-dollarisation” — moving away from the greenback — is not a priority, Hang Chuon Naron said he can see a time when the riel will be the dominant currency in Cambodia.

“The issue is to accumulate national reserves, and promote a high growth rate and long-term confidence. We have to do this step by step.”

Menon said he agreed with a long-term approach to reducing dependence on the greenback.

“If governments try to change the system overnight, by requiring the use of domestic currency, the experience is that it’s actually counterproductive and delays further the process of de-dollarisation,” he said.

But there are shorter-term measures available to governments to lessen their dollar reliance.

In Cambodia, for instance, the government “could try to increase the incentive for people to save in the domestic currency”, Menon suggested, or some private-sector wages could be paid in riel.

In the medium term, Menon said all these countries could benefit from a Currency Board Arrangement — a pegged exchange-rate system, where countries can only issue currency that is fully backed by foreign exchange reserves.

“Long term, it’s about improving institutions, financial markets, capital markets, political and economic stability,” he said.

The Age – Global drug gangs outpacing nations
Dylan Welch and Nick McKenzie
October 18, 2010

OPIUM production in Burma is eclipsing that in all other south-east Asian countries and trending ”relentlessly upward”, according to the United Nations’ East Asian drugs and crime representative.

In a speech today the regional head of the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime, Gary Lewis, will reveal that Burma’s opium growing has spiked in the last four years, and will call on law enforcement and governments to do more to tackle the threat of transnational organised crime.

”Transnational organised crime has internationalised faster than the ability of law enforcement and world governance to keep pace,” Mr Lewis says.

”It now represents [an] over-arching threat to governments, to societies, and to economies. In some cases, [it] has also become a threat to peace and development, even to the sovereignty of countries.”

Another speaker at the international organised crime conference, Victoria Police Detective Superintendent Doug Fryer, will reveal how the work of state’s drug squad has led to a four-year low in heroin overdoses in Victoria. In 2010, 46 people have died from heroin overdoses, down from a 10-year peak of 115 in 2008 and 82 last year.

In 2008, Victoria Police launched a fresh policing strategy after a plea from the federal government to prevent any more Australians joining the 25 already sentenced to death in Vietnam for attempting to smuggle heroin out the country to Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

Over the past two years, intensive intelligence collection by Victorian detectives and federal agencies allowed police to identify 30 Vietnamese drug syndicate leaders and 60 couriers, leading to major arrests and drug seizures.

A simultaneous education campaign in the local Vietnamese press warned potential couriers that they may face the death penalty if caught in Vietnam or jail if caught in Melbourne.

Superintendent Fryer’s conference presentation stresses the need for policing agencies to overcome traditional rivalries to sustain similar investigations.

He will tell the conference that the drug squad’s results were possible only by working with the ACC, federal police and customs.

Asian Correspondent – Thai Army raises security measures, as Burma’s situation at risk
Oct. 17 2010 – 09:09 pm
Zin Linn

The Royal Thai Army has further tightened already stiff security measures along the border in Tak province in the lead-up to the Nov 7 election in Burma, according to the Bangkok Post on 17/10/2010.

Soldiers at the 4th Infantry Regiment task force in Tak’s Mae Sot district have been ordered to conduct special patrol operations along the border opposite the Burmese town of Myawaddy until the election ends, task force commander Padung Yingpaiboon said. Myawaddy, in Karen State, has seen an escalation in fighting between Burmese troops and the Karen National Union, the largest ethnic minority group fighting the government.

Commander of the 3rd Army Wannatip Wongwai said the Burma junta has not asked for any help from Thai authorities,

However, the commander of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment’s Pha Muang task force in Chiang Rai, Col Jiradej Kamolpetch, said the army would be ready to help with the elections if it was asked, the Bangkok Post said.

The junta said during Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s one-day visit to Burma last week, it closed its Myawaddy border checkpoint due to internal security troubles.

Recently, the state-run the New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported on 13 October that a land-mine blast in northern Kachin state had killed two people and injured one. It said the “landmine was planted by KIA insurgents.” More remarkable is that the junta has used the word “insurgent” to describe the ethnic Kachin’s 8,000-strong army since the group signed a cease-fire agreement with the junta in 1994 that ended a decades-long struggle against the government for autonomy.

Furthermore, the junta-appointed Election Commission’s announcement on 16 September removing whole or parts of 32 townships off the upcoming poll map might not be the last, according to sources on the Thai-Burma border, Shan Herald News reported.

There are at least 5 more townships in Shan State East on its watch list: Mongton, Monghsat, Mongyawng, Mongyang and Mongkhark. All of them are either close to or intermixed with Wa or Mongla-controlled areas. The Burmese junta has been at loggerheads with both Wa and Mongla ceasefire groups since their refusal last year transform themselves into Border Guard Forces (BGFs). Of the 55 townships in Shan State, the EC had axed 4 whole townships and parts of 8 other townships last month.

Growing tensions with ceasefire groups began in 2009, when the Wa turned down junta’s demand to place its armed units under the Burma Army. Both the Wa and its allies say no disarmament can be expected from them unless Burmese junta respond positively to their call for self-rule.

In addition, people’s daily life is falling apart and petty crimes are increasing all over the country. Due to Burmese army’s offensives, thousands of villages were burnt down; thousands of IDPs are hiding in the jungles; thousands of refugees and illegal migrants are fleeing into neighbouring countries.

The Burmese junta has accelerated tactics to enforce state security by controlling all the ethnic ceasefire groups in the border areas who are being pressured to provide security along Burma’s border regions ahead of the forthcoming elections. Many political analysts believe the junta is pressuring the ethnic ceasefire groups to become Border Guard Forces to restrict and control their activities.

The junta has announced that if ceasefire groups do not respond regarding the agreement or disagreement on the BGF program, they will automatically be recognized as insurgent groups.

Anti-Border Guard Force program groups are: the UWSA, the MNDAA, Kachin Independent Army (KIA), Shan State Army (SSA) ‘North’’s First Brigade, the Kayan New Land Party (KNLP) and New Mon State Party (NMSP). All decided to remain unchanged unless their autonomy demands are met.

The situation inside Burma is too vulnerable; the military ruled nation’s political and social volatility may burst out at any time.

Otago Daily Times – Ex-political prisoner speaks of freedom
By John Gibb on Mon, 18 Oct 2010
News: Dunedin

Former political prisoner Aung Khaing Min took the biggest gamble of his life in 2003 when he fled Myanmar, illegally crossing the border into Thailand to escape the military regime.

A former leader of university student pro-democracy protests in the mid-1990s, he had been questioned at length by military intelligence officers, and sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment in Myanmar.

Released after six years, he and his family remained under surveillance by military authorities.

He was denied a passport, prevented from completing his degree at Rangoon University, and denied employment.

Aung Khaing Min (37), who was in Dunedin yesterday, during his first visit to New Zealand, said the journey across the Myanmar-Thai border – including a walk across a border bridge- was “just a short 15 or 20 minutes”.

“But it was the longest 15 minutes of my life.

“My heart was pounding. If I got caught I would be imprisoned for over 20 years, and if I could make it I’d be free,” he said.

He now lives in Thailand, close to the Myanmar border, in an area which is a centre of opposition to the Myanmar Government, but where there are considerable risks of kidnappings and assassination.

He visited New Zealand’s Parliament last week, meeting members of the foreign affairs, defence and trade select committee and Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry officials.

A motion which he saw being passed in Parliament last week unanimously calling for an improvement in human rights in Myanmar was a “very positive” step.

He noted that New Zealand representatives would be attending a series of meetings with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in Hanoi, on October 28-30.

It was important New Zealand urged Asean members to apply pressure to the Myanmar Government to bring back genuine democracy, he said.

Myanmar was heading for national elections on November 7, but these were a sham, with many people disenfranchised and also prevented from contesting the election and more than 2200 political prisoners still held in prison.

His visit to New Zealand has been funded by Amnesty International as part of its Myanmar “Freedom” campaign.

He attended a meeting of Amnesty International members in Dunedin last night and will give a public talk at Otago University’s Arts Building, Burns Lecture Theatre 2, Albany St, at 6.30pm today.

The Australian – Aung San Suu Kyi’s power on the wane as Burmese junta arranges election
October 18, 2010 12:00AM

BURMA’S Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi is facing the end of her dream to lead a democratic government.

Deaths and divisions in her party are serving to herald victory for the junta in a stage-managed election next month.

Ms Suu Kyi’s call for a boycott has split the opposition and a growing number of dissident exiles believe her era may be drawing to a close. More than 160 supporters have defied their leader to contest the election while she languishes in detention at her lakeside house in Rangoon.

Governments from Thailand to China are queuing up to do business with the generals, who seem confident that the elections will deliver an international vote of confidence in their rule.

Old age is removing the group of former soldiers and elite politicians that constituted the brains of Ms Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy.

Activists have gathered at Buddhist temples twice in recent months for the funerals of such men, rare occasions when they can meet in public and be relatively safe from arrest or assault.

The National League was legally dissolved after Ms Suu Kyi boycotted the poll, saying that under rules drawn up by the generals it would be neither free nor fair.

In despair, 163 members of the party broke with her and are standing for election in Rangoon, calling themselves the National Democratic Force. Nobody thinks the opposition can win but its supporters are torn between exposing the poll as a fraud and fighting for every vote. The military has reserved a quarter of seats in parliament for itself and ensured that the parties it supports are guaranteed to win majorities.

“The regime won’t even have to indulge any further in the kind of vote rigging it’s been engineering in the campaign so far,” said The Irrawaddy, an exiles’ magazine.

The big test will be how many of Burma’s 27 million registered voters will turn out. Myint Shwe, an exile and former political prisoner, has circulated an article saying that if most voters ignore the call by Ms Suu Kyi, 65, for a boycott, it will mean her influence is in decline. He said the old guard in her party took bad decisions while Ms Suu Kyi issued calls for sanctions that left younger Burmese without jobs or hope. Such opinions have been widely voiced by Burmese who hate the regime but have seen no gains from the policy of isolation urged by Ms Suu Kyi and followed by the West.

The junta’s leader, General Than Shwe, 77, has played off friends and foes with ruthless skill.

“It can be assumed that Than Shwe has prepared a safe exit for himself and his family and that he wants to see a stable new regime take power,” wrote Aung Zaw, an exiled political analyst.

EarthTimes – Sanctioned Myanmar company buys out Thai owner of hotel
Posted : Sun, 17 Oct 2010 07:14:56 GMT

Yangon – Myanmar’s Htoo Trading Company, whose founder faces economic sanctions from the US, has purchased the Kandawgyi Palace Hotel from its Thai owners, a news report said Sunday.

A spokesman for Htoo Trading confirmed the purchase but could not verify the price, which some media reports put at 29 million dollars, the Myanmar Times said.

The Kandawgyi Palace, a teak construction on the Royal Lake in Yangon, was owned by the Bangkok-based Baiyoke Group of Hotels.

The Htoo Group is one of Myanmar’s largest conglomerates, with business interests in timber, trade, tourism and construction.

The group is led by Tay Za, a Sino-Burmese businessman known to have close ties to military junta chief Senior General Than Shwe.

In October 2008, the US imposed financial sanctions on Tay Za and five Htoo Group companies as part of Washington’s beefed up sanctions against the ruling generals and their business cronies.

The Kandawgyi Palace Hotel purchase came just weeks before the scheduled November 7 general election, which many hope will lead to an improved environment for Myanmar’s tourism sector.

The Htoo Group is also the major owner of Air Bagan and Aureum Palace Hotels & Resorts.

People’s Daily Online – Myanmar to construct railroad to link deep-sea port with China
10:28, October 17, 2010

Myanmar has planned to construct a railroad that will link a deep-sea port, Kyaukphyu, in western Rakhine state with Kunming, southwest of China, the local Weekly Eleven News reported Saturday.

The Kyaukphyu-Kunming railroad, which is part of the Kyaukphyu- Ruili platform project and national railroad network, is targeted to be finished in 2015.

The railroad will pass through Rakhine State, Magway Region, Mandalay Region and Shan State in Myanmar, the report said.

The railroad project is divided into such sections as Kyaukphyu- Eann-Minbu, Minbu-Magway-Mandalay-Lashio-Muse and Muse-Jiegao trans-border railroad.

After the project is implemented, Myanmar’s Shan State and China’s Yunnan province can be connected directly and the railroad will mainly facilitate the goods flow from China, the report said, adding that Magway and Mandalay regions will then become the main business towns.

Meanwhile, China has also planned to invest in a special industrial zone to be established in Kyaukphyu.

MedIndia – As Healthcare Crumbles, Myanmar’s Poor Fall Prey to Malaria
by Tanya Thomas on  October 17, 2010 at 9:38 AM
Tropical Disease News

In a sleepy, rural settlement in the far north of army-ruled Myanmar, farmer Tu Raw anxiously cuddles his young son and baby daughter, both coughing and feverish with the symptoms of malaria.

About half of the villagers in this remote corner of Kachin State are suffering from the mosquito-borne disease, but medical supplies provided by the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), a Christian group, ran out two weeks ago.

“We are waiting for medicine,” said the 29-year-old, shaded from the fierce tropical heat by his wooden hut, as chickens squawked nearby.

Tu Raw, whose name AFP has changed for his safety, does not know when the next batch of malarial drugs will arrive and he owns no means of transport to get to the nearest clinic in Waimaw township.

In military-ruled Myanmar, saying anything seen as critical of the authorities can have serious consequences.

“We wait because we don’t have enough money,” said the worried father, who has resorted to the traditional method of vigorously scrubbing the skin to relieve pain, leaving maroon, whip-like marks on his three-year-old boy’s back.

Malaria is the country’s most rampant disease, infecting up to 10 million people and possibly killing tens of thousands each year, according to Frank Smithuis, a malaria expert who has been in Myanmar for 16 years.

Many struggle to get the help they need, particularly in rural border states such as Kachin that are home to marginalised ethnic minorities.

A local co-ordinator at the KBC said his group only had the resources to assist about five percent of the Kachin population in the fight against malaria.

“There are many people we can’t reach and it’s getting worse,” he said. “It’s linked to poverty. Most of them can’t even afford mosquito nets.”

Non-governmental organisations such as the KBC are crucial in a country where, according to a United Nations report earlier this year, the military regime spends just 0.5 percent of gross domestic product on health.

And despite being one of the least developed countries after nearly five decades of army rule, overseas development aid trickling into Myanmar is among the lowest in the world.

World Bank figures show nearly a third of the 50 million-strong population lives below the poverty line, while the mortality rate of children under five is almost double the world average, according to the World Health Organisation.

“It’s a very hard life. We are not happy,” said one of Tu Raw’s neighbours, a 48-year-old woman, as she tended to her malaria-infected daughter, aged 10, huddled in the corner of their thatched bamboo home.

Aside from malaria, hundreds of thousands in Myanmar also suffer from a range of other ills including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, dysentery and malnutrition.

While some public healthcare — such as malaria tests and treatment — is supposed to be free, often clinics are not supplied with drugs and patients have to go to local pharmacies.

“Almost 70 percent of healthcare is provided by the private sector, but this is of varying quality and not affordable for a big group,” said a foreign aid worker in Myanmar, who declined to be named owing to political sensitivities.

He said non-governmental aid groups are not allowed access to hospitals, which are understaffed in rural areas.

Despite the critical humanitarian situation, political parties have only mentioned health policy in vague terms, if at all, ahead of controversial November 7 elections that the main pro-junta party is expected to win.

Maung Zarni, a research fellow on Myanmar (Burma) at the London School of Economics, said there was a “complete absence of space to seriously discuss the fundamental issues” such as healthcare.

“The problem is not that people don’t want to raise policy issues, it’s that the generals who make decisions are not open to any policy discussion,” he said.

The cause of the healthcare crisis is not low revenues. The regime rakes in cash from exports of natural resources, such as gas, but 80 percent of state spending goes on the army and state-owned enterprises, according to the UN.

Although humanitarian groups try to fill the gaps in the healthcare system, it is “not remotely sufficient for what is needed,” the aid worker said.

In the past, overseas governments have scaled down aid in protest at Myanmar’s lack of democracy, human rights abuses and the suppression of the opposition, or felt forced to pull out because of the junta’s tight controls.

The country receives about four dollars per person a year in foreign aid, compared with about 38 dollars per person in Cambodia and 50 in Laos, according to Smithuis, the former Myanmar director of Medecins Sans Frontieres.

He called for a major injection of foreign funds following signs that new drug-resistant malaria has emerged in eastern Myanmar, which he said was potentially a “very serious” threat.

“It is in practice a humanitarian boycott, for purely political reasons. This is a scandal,” said Smithuis. “The needs are high and the humanitarian boycott is only harming the people of Myanmar.”

October 17, 2010 12:25 PM
Illegal Immigrants Claim Syndicate Members Threaten Them With Pistols

PADANG BESAR, Oct 17 (Bernama) — A group of illegal immigrants who were arrested by the Anti-Smuggling Unit (UPP) at a sugarcane farm in Chuping, near here yesterday, claimed that syndicate members had threatened them with pistols if they refused to cross the border to Malaysia.

Perlis police chief Datuk Ghazali Md Amin said the group, comprising 16 Bangladeshi men, eight Myanmar men and a Myanmar woman, paid US$1,000 (RM3,100) each to a syndicate operating in Thailand to take them to Malaysia to find jobs.

“They were believed to have crossed the border at about 10pm on Friday and walked their way to the farm area where they were arrested by UPP personnel who were patrolling the vicinity at about 1am,” he told reporters at the Chuping UPP camp on Sunday.

Ghazali said initial investigation showed that the Bangladeshi men, who were with valid passports, had arrived at the KL International Airport on Oct 13 but were unable to enter the country because they had no visa.

They later flew to Phuket, Thailand and from there, the Bangladeshi men were joined by the Myanmar nationals and were transported by pick-up trucks to the Thai-Malaysia border where they were told walk across to Malaysia.

They claimed that when they refused to do so, syndicate members threatened them with pistols, Ghazali said.

He said the Myanmar nationals were victims of human trafficking syndicates operating from their country.

All the foreigners, aged between 17 and 37, had been handed over to the Immigration Department for further action.

October 17, 2010 16:40 PM
MMEA Detain Four Foreign Vessels For Illegal Oil Transfer

JOHOR BAHARU, Oct 17 (Bernama) — The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) detained four foreign vessels for illegally transferring 125,752 litres of oil in Pengerang waters, near Kota Tinggi yesterday.

MMEA southern region operations director Capt Mohd Zubil Mat Som said 52 crew of the four vessels, comprising 15 from Thailand, Philippines (12), Indonesia (13), Myanmar (eight) and Netherlands (four), aged between 20 and 59, were also arrested.

He said the four vessels were spotted by a MMEA patrolling team on KM Manjong at two locations about 1.8 nautical miles off Tanjung Ayam, Pengerang between 10am and 5.30pm yesterday, during an operation dubbed ‘Ops Perkasa Selatan’.

“Following inspections, we found that the four vessels were conducting illegal oil transfer, which is an offence under the Merchant Shipping Ordinance 1952 and Federation Light Dues Act 1953,” he said in statement here today.

He added that the vessels were registered in Kiribati, Bangkok, Freetown (Sierra Leone) and Rotterdam.

Irish Sun – ‘Miracles do happen, even in a police state’: My childhood in Burma
On 7 November, Burma will hold its first elections in two decades. Here, the writer Wendy Law-Yone, who grew up under its repressive regime in the 1960s, relives the terrible night her journalist father was seized by the army to be held indefinitely, and how an unlikely romance helped her find freedom
Wendy Law-Yone
The Observer, Sunday 17 October 2010

Wendy Law-Yone, aged 21, in Bangkok, shortly after she escaped from Burma. Photograph: Wendy Law-Yone

Desire fulfilled is a dangerous thing, we are told by the moralists. Be careful of what you want, they warn. You might end up getting it. Once, when I was 20 years old and the thing I’d wanted above all else was suddenly granted me, I came to understand the truth in that warning.

Where does the desire of a lifetime begin? Mine began, I think, with snow. The earliest games I remember playing as a child in Rangoon involved snow. Our home in those days of the early 1950s was on two floors of a four-storey edifice called the Thomas de la Rue building. Money was minted in that building – or had been until just before the war, when the British were still running Burma. “Don’t think money grows on trees!” my mother was fond of saying. Of course I didn’t think money grew on trees. It was printed downstairs, on old machines. Upstairs, on the top storey, was the North Pole: a big empty loft where I would try to lead my playmates on pretend Arctic expeditions. Snow was a miracle, a chimera, that called me to impossibly distant places.

As I grew older, I listened, rapt, to stories brought home by my older siblings who had studied and travelled in America; by my father, describing his first opera while on a press junket to Europe (“Crying over a lost coat! Too funny!”); by multilingual friends whose parents were posted to places like Paris, Rome, Belgrade…

I couldn’t wait for my turn, when I’d see for myself the wonders of a world as sprawling as the landscape in that fairytale, “East of the Sun and West of the Moon.” At 16 – with school behind me and a music scholarship in California awaiting me; with my blue Samsonite suitcase packed and repacked daily, months ahead of schedule – it seemed my time had come.

Then, in March 1963, with only three months to go, everything changed. One night, a car drew up under our front porch and woke my mother. Seeing an army Jeep outside, she shook my father awake. He looked at his watch as he got out of bed. Three o’clock in the morning.

At the front door was a young man in uniform. “Uncle,” said the captain, “let’s go. And don’t touch the telephone, please.” When she looked out the window my mother saw that the house was surrounded. Apart from the Jeep, there was an open truck full of armed soldiers, and an army station wagon. In this station wagon our father was taken away.

Only later in the day, when we children woke up one by one, did my mother realise that not only could she not tell us where he had been taken to, she couldn’t be sure who his captors were. The army, she assumed. But how could she be certain when there was nothing to go on: no charge, no warrant, no witnesses apart from herself?

Days passed, then weeks, then months – and still we were in the dark about where Dad had been taken, or when if ever we would see him again. One day, eight months after his disappearance, an official letter finally arrived. Editor U Law-Yone (my father was editor and publisher of the leading English-language daily, the Rangoon Nation) was “under protective custody”. He would be allowed to write one letter home every other week. On alternating weeks he could receive one letter from home. No letter should exceed two handwritten pages. There was no mention of visits – then, or at any time in the five years to follow.

Not long after my father’s arrest, I gathered the nerve to broach a difficult subject: my passport. My mother looked at me, uncomprehending. “What passport?” “Shouldn’t we be applying for it?” I said. “We’re running out of time.”

My mother said, “You must be joking.” Then, seeing I wasn’t joking, “I can’t believe this. Your father’s in jail – or worse – and you’re still thinking of leaving? You are that selfish?”

I was, in fact, that selfish. It seemed to me urgent to leave, especially because my father had been arrested. Something told me we weren’t going to see him any time soon. Prime minister U Nu and his cabinet ministers had been picked up a year ago, when the military took over, and they were still in jail. More and more politicians, journalists and students were disappearing in the dragnet cast by the MIS – the Military Intelligence Service. Businesses were being nationalised or shut down without compensation. Foreign nationals – even those whose families had lived in Burma for generations – were stripped of their assets and ordered out of the country. Things were getting worse, not better, I reasoned; and what good was I to anyone if I stayed?

My mother ended our Mexican standoff with one of her edicts. “You’re not going. And that’s that.” Then she burst into tears, and I went off to seethe with self-pity and impotent rage.

Months later, following her advice to “make the best of things”, I was enrolled in Rangoon University. But halfway through the first term, both my mother and I were summoned to the registrar’s office. There we were informed that, as the daughter of a political prisoner, I was officially barred from classes – at the university or at any other institute of learning.

I could see my mother biting her lip and hoped she wouldn’t cry. When she did, I hated her even more than I hated the registrar, and shot her a look that said, “See? What did I tell you? And you wanted me to stay.”

The pile-up of frustrations gave me licence, as I saw it, to sulk and mope. To escape the assaults of a large household, I locked myself in my room, emerging only for meals, bristling at the slightest taunt or tease from my brothers and sisters. The bed in my room was a pull-out sofa that I never bothered to pull out, sleeping uncomfortably on the narrow seat, my bed of nails. I fell into the habit of sleeping fully clothed, prepared to jump up at a moment’s notice – and flee.

When not plotting revenge on one adversary or another, I was plotting escape. I had stopped playing the piano altogether (another act of protest which, maddeningly, no one seemed to notice), but on my portable record player I listened to the same handful of LPs – Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, Eartha Kitt, a Segovia album – dreaming all the while of faraway places. In my fantasies, I drove the smooth highways of America in an open convertible. I roamed the cafés of Paris, rubbing shoulders with Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. I sat in the front row of a concert hall in Moscow, watching the hands of the great Sviatoslav Richter on the keyboard of a Steinway grand. I dreamed, like Bing Crosby, of a white Christmas.

One day I was invited to a piano recital at the Goethe Institute in Rangoon. The British Council and the Alliance Française had already begun to pull up stakes and leave, but the Germans still soldiered on in their cultural mission. During the intermission, I met an American couple who introduced me to their house guest, another American by the name of Sterling. We sat and talked for about 20 minutes. Then, when the concert was over, we went our separate ways: Sterling to San Francisco, where he was living at the time, and I to my bed of nails.

Six months later, Sterling and I were launched on a long-distance romance. The forbidden nature of it appealed to our mutual love of secrecy, danger and adventure. For the next year and a half, we wrote to each other almost daily. Our letters escaped the post office censors by coming and going through the diplomatic pouch, thanks to sympathetic embassy friends.

For the first time in a long while, I was no longer fixated on escape and flight. I was too busy composing letters that I hoped would impress Sterling, a journalist by profession, and the last word, it seemed to me, in epistolary savoir-faire. I sat at my grey Smith Corona, a dictionary by my side, a wheel-and-brush eraser at the ready. For hours I typed and erased, often tearing the onion-skin stationery that had quickly turned purple from my laboured prose.

We were married in Rangoon, two years from the date of our first meeting. I was 20, Sterling 10 years older. The wedding was a subdued and surreal affair, with the MIS tailing us to the courthouse and back – and many long faces in attendance as the day wore on and it became obvious that the authorities were not going to release my father for the occasion.
The ceremonies over, Sterling was once more obliged to leave: as a foreigner, he could only stay for the duration of a 24-hour transit visa.

Over the next few months, Sterling flew in and out of the country, while I tried repeatedly to apply for a passport – each time to no avail. It appeared that my chances were no better now that I was married to an American; if anything, they were worse. All Americans were potential CIA agents in the eyes of the MIS.

It was time, we decided, for me to take the “back door” – the underground route to Thailand favoured by smugglers, petty criminals and insurgents. Early one morning in May, I set out for the train station with my brother, Alban, and a gem smuggler who had agreed to lead us through the eastern jungles to a safe crossing at the border with Thailand.

We never made it that far. At the river port of Moulmein, on the very first leg of our journey, we were picked up by the secret police and brought back to Rangoon. Once at the MIS headquarters, my brother and I were separated and held in different rooms.

The interrogations lasted from nine at night to nine the next morning, the officers working in teams of four, changing shifts at 3am. For the next 10 days, the routine was unvarying: every night, just before nine, a guard would unlock the door to lead me downstairs, into the self-same office, where I was asked to take a seat across the desk from the interrogators. Just before 9am, I would be led back to my room.

Feverish with despair, I’d throw myself on to the cot that had been set up for me in the windowless office where I slept. “What makes you think,” the colonel had said with a pleasant smile, when I had asked for the umpteenth time, “that you’re ever going to be released?”

I was doomed, I now knew. Just as my father was doomed. I was never going to get out of jail. Nor was he. Every Christmas a card would arrive at our house from an organisation called Amnesty International, assuring the “prisoner of conscience” that he was not forgotten. And for a few weeks my mother would allow herself to hope that important people outside the country were busy engineering her husband’s release. Now I saw that nothing could possibly come of any talk of release. Now I knew what protective custody meant. It meant you could be locked up one day just like that, and remain locked up until God alone knew when — and not a thing in the world could be done about it.

I made a vow to myself then: if, by miracle, I ever made it out of jail and managed to leave the country, I would never, ever, come back to live in such a wretched place again.

Miracles do happen, even in police states. Ten days after our arrest, without warning or explanation, my brother and I were allowed to go home. Even more astonishing, Colonel Chit Khin, the chief of Military Intelligence himself, put in a bouncy appearance to sign our release order. Reminding me that we had once played tennis to- gether, he then assured me that an exit permit would be granted me within 10 days.

In the event, 10 days turned into three months, as a wave of violent anti-Chinese riots brought the city to a standstill and martial law was declared. But against all odds, just as I was beginning to give up hope, a messenger cycled up to our front door one morning and handed me my ticket to freedom: an exit permit and a certificate of identity, the stateless person’s passport.

On the night of 15 July 1967, I drove to Mingaladon airport in the spooky atmosphere of a war-time blackout. Because a curfew was still in effect, nobody came to see me off, but our driver, Maung Thein Htun, tried in his quiet way to make up for the lonely send-off. He had brought me as a going-away present a small paperback, a Burmese cookbook. Whenever I felt homesick, he said, I could follow one of those recipes. Then maybe I would think of him a little, too. From my seat in the back I could see the sad movement of his Adam’s apple.

The airport seemed utterly deserted and for once even the MIS were out of sight. Then a Thai International attendant appeared, led me to the ticket counter and before I knew it I was being escorted aboard Thai International Flight TG304, where I discovered that I was the one and only passenger.

It was my first time on a jet and I was white-knuckled: not from fear of flying, but from fear of flying back. Just before boarding I had overheard an exchange between two members of the ground crew. Point of no-return, was what one of them had said jokingly. Something about how on a short flight like the one before us (we were flying from Rangoon to Bangkok, an hour-and-a-half away), there was no point of no-return.

No point of no-return! But what did that mean? That the plane could be ordered to turn back at any time, right up to the verge of landing? The alarming paradox held me in thrall for the rest of the flight – until the plane touched down at Don Muang International airport right on schedule, the wheels skipping a little before coming to a stop. Out on the tarmac, two strangers were waving to me. One of them, I realised with a start, was my husband.

Endings, like beginnings, are never as clear-cut as we wish them to be. One life had ended for me, thank God, and a new life had begun. The commercials on the television sets in Bangkok all seemed to shout out my hard-won status. FREE! FREE! FREE! The world was my apple. The sky was the limit. And I soon found out that my persistent nausea was not just a case of nerves: I was pregnant.

There was a small problem of how we were going to live, for we had no money. Sterling had quit his job with a San Francisco television station to “spirit” me out of Burma, as he put it, and I, of course, had no credentials, no “marketable skills”. But we were rich, we felt, in other ways. And we would soon be rich in the usual way, too, for someone at MGM was “wildly excited” about a script that Sterling had written. We flew to Los Angeles and found a cheap apartment in West Hollywood, near enough to the studios to facilitate negotiations. (Daryl, the MGM executive, turned out to be a bankrupt shyster who was using stolen MGM stationery – but that’s another story.)

The apartment had a large plastic tree that took up half the living space, but we could hang things on it: clothes, large paper clips to hold newspaper clippings, even a stuffed mouse with enormous ears, a gift to me from Sterling, named Mousey Tung.

It was Mousey Tung I clutched to my belly when the cramps began one night. I thought at first it might be indigestion from the excess of Kraft’s Green Goddess salad dressing I’d poured on my iceberg lettuce, but the cramping continued for hours before letting up and allowing sleep. I felt fine the next day – until late evening, when the cramps returned with a vengeance. This time they lasted most of the night. Poor Mousey Tung’s wire ears were misshapen by morning. On the third night, when the dread signs began, Sterling borrowed a friend’s car to drive me to the hospital. The young resident who examined me said, “You’re trying to abort.” “No, I’m not!” I snapped, mistaking the diagnosis for accusation. He gave me an injection and sent me home to rest.

I got into the back seat of the car so I could lie down. We drove out of the hospital and on to roads where the signs and billboards flashing by were exactly like the neon-lit vistas I had imagined as a teenager, when I drove the open highways in my daydreams. But before long I could think of nothing but the pain tearing through my abdomen. Once, when it seemed as if we had been driving for hours, I screamed for Sterling to stop, for God’s sake, and do something, but we were on one of the great freeways of southern California, caught on a particularly long stretch between exits, and when Sterling screamed back, “What do you want me to DO?” I feared an accident and went back to moaning and writhing and clawing the air.

“We’re almost home, almost home,” he kept saying, and I had ceased to believe him when suddenly we were stopped right in front of our apartment – and suddenly, miraculously, the pain stopped, too.

I was trembling with relief as I got out of the car – and still trembling when I felt the important gush between my legs that told me it was all over now, there was nothing to be done about it.

Once in bed I was overcome with relief that bordered on euphoria. The pain was gone, and I was alive. Things happen for a reason, I told myself. The baby was not meant to be, clearly. The pregnancy must have been doomed from the start. Or maybe it was just that a price had to be paid for the freedom I’d won – and this was the very price. I felt calm, even peaceful, as I accepted my loss. Then I felt weak with hunger. I had a powerful craving for my mother’s chicken stew. One thing I could say about my mother: no matter how busy she might be, or how angry at me, I could always count on her special chicken stew to speed up my recovery from any illness. I remembered a story she’d once told me about the child she had lost – and suddenly it was as if she was sitting on the edge of my bed, telling me the story again.

“Alban was just a baby, your father’s deaf aunt was helping to take care of him, when his little brother was born – 31 January, I still remember the day. We named him John. When the baby was eight months old, he suddenly got very sick and broke out in sores. The doctor came – and just stood at the door to the bedroom. He took one look at the baby and wouldn’t come any closer. “Take him to the hospital right away,” was all he said.

“I suppose I knew at the back of my mind that there was a smallpox epidemic going on, but I refused to let myself think about it. In the hospital, of course, there was no escaping the horror. All around us people were dying and being carried away. I stayed with the baby day and night for I don’t know how many days. I remember hearing somebody say that human saliva could cure those sores, so I kept on licking the baby’s hot little body all over, praying and praying for a miracle.

“I don’t even know how they managed to get me away from the baby when it died, how I was able to leave him there. But I remember coming home and the dog going wild. It just knew, I suppose. It kept jumping all over me, licking me and making crying noises. I remember sitting in the living room and staring at nothing for a long, long time, just like that. Daddy brought me some ice cream, but I couldn’t touch it, I couldn’t look at it.”

When Sterling came to kneel by the bedside and comfort me, saying, “We’ll have another; it will be all right,” I didn’t know how to tell him that what I wanted at the moment was not to have another child – it was to go home and tell my mother I was sorry.

Three months later, our Hollywood illusions behind us, we moved to New York City, where I found a job, a minor clerical position, with a big German firm. My boss, a salesman by the name of Eugene Koch, seemed like the kindest man on earth. I celebrated my first white Christmas with a beautiful Douglas fir tree that someone had left on the street. I hadn’t met Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, but I had seen Julie Christie browsing in a tiny boutique in Sausalito. And I hadn’t yet heard Sviatoslav Richter play, but the mother of a friend of ours had two extra tickets to the Metropolitan Opera, where I slept soundly through The Ride of the Valkyries.

It was spring of the next year, and I was pregnant again when I received a pile of mail that had been forwarded along to me from one past address to another. In it was a letter from my father, sent from 116B University Avenue, Rangoon, and dated 4 March 1968.

My darling daughter,

As soon as I came home we dashed off a cable to you. You must be footloose somewhere because you have not yet responded. But everything here reminds me of you: even this typewriter which was clogged up with your old eraser shavings…

Wars and rumours of war; men withering away in expectation of what shall befall them. There has been no change since I went in…

You are old enough and sensible enough to know that my imprisonment has been a blessing in disguise. We have all recovered from the ordeal we have been through. Other families lose the head at one fell swoop – in our case there was a dress rehearsal to prepare everyone for the day when the show opens in earnest,


But the show had already opened in earnest for me. I was a grown-up now. And if I didn’t jump up and down in exultation at the news of my father’s release, it was because I had learned that beginnings, like endings, are never as clear-cut as we imagine.

The Nation – Opinion: No plans to send back Burmese refugees
Published on October 16, 2010

Re: “Talk of Returning Refugees? Kasit Is Playing with Fire”, Editorial, October 4.

In making comments on Thailand’s position regarding the Burmese displaced persons, [your editorial] seems to have inaccurately interpreted Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya’s remarks at the Asia Society Headquarters in New York on September 28.

Thailand has consistently been supportive of the democratisation process in Burma, in which the upcoming general election in November is a crucial step that could lead to national reconciliation and unity in our neighbouring country. Looking ahead as the democratic transition in Burma moves forward, it is important that the Burmese people, some of whom may be returning from Thailand, will be able to participate meaningfully in their country’s development. That is why there is need – as the Foreign Minister has stated – for a comprehensive programme to help better prepare them, particularly in terms of training, education and capacity building. The aim is to ensure that they can be self-reliant, go back home with dignity and be assets to develop their country when the situation becomes conducive for their eventual return, for which there is no specific time frame. Your concern about “a plan to repatriate” Burmese displaced persons or “those in exile” is not just premature but indeed misplaced because currently no such plan exists.

You are right, though, about the need for international support. The international community should join Thailand and provide assistance for the effort to help improve the lives of and train Burmese people; for, ultimately, this would contribute to a better future of the Burmese people.

Vimon Kidchob
Director-general, Foreign Affairs Ministry, Bangkok

First national web portal formally launched in Myanmar cyber city
English.news.cn 2010-10-17 22:47:45

MANDALAY/MYANMAR, Oct. 17 (Xinhua) — A first Myanmar-language national web portal was formally launched in the Yadanapon cyber city in Pyin Oo Lwin, Mandalay region Sunday, signifying a step forward of the country’s development of IT industry, including the internet.

The opening ceremony of the high-tech communication FTTH (Fiber to the Home) system, comprising internet, VOIP telephone and IPTV channels, was attended by Prime Minister U Thein Sein and other high-ranking officials as well as IT technicians.

Several IT companies in the Yadanapon cyber city, including China’s ZTE and Huawei companies, displayed their products at the launch.

The two Chinese companies have been partly involved in the construction of the cyber city, cooperating with local companies in developing IT products that suit Myanmar use.

Along with the launch of the national web portal, the Yadanapon cyber city of Myanmar’s University of Technology was also opened, aimed at nurturing IT experts.

The triple services — VOIP telephone, internet, IPTV — are available from a single fiber cable network, having higher speed system than Wi Max, ADSL, Dial up systems.

The FTTH system had been installed earlier and made test-run in Pyin Oo Lwin, Mandalay and Yangon as pilot project.

The installation fees for FTTH (Triple Play) is 900 U.S. dollars per house and 750 dollars per house for double play.

The internet link, which is currently used in Myanmar, is Sea- Me-We-3 linking through Singapore. It also links with transborder cables of China and Thailand and can communicate with altogether 34 countries, which is included in Sea-Me-We-3 Cyber Link.

Plans are also underway to be able to link with Sea-Me-We-4, Asia , Europe under water cable. It will be linked to Sea-Me-We-4 via Bangladesh which is the nearest country. After completion of the project, it can communicate with other countries included in Sea-Me-We-4 Cyber link via fiber cable.

So far, over 10,000 kilometers of fiber optic cable have been installed across Myanmar in order to promote the communication sector.

Yadanapon Cyber City was established in 2007 for the development of IT.

Private Companies such as Yadanabon Teleport Co., Yadanabon Fiber Factory, E lite Co., Huawei Co., Asia Mega link Co., established factories and produced communication accessories there.

The estimated investment amount of Yadanapon Cyber City is 20 million dollars, of which, about 10 million dollars was invested by E lite Company, a branch of Htoo Group of Company.

The FTTH service will be launched in Yangon and Mandalay by the end of this year.

The Irrawaddy – Burmese Businesses not Ready for AFTA
By MYO MAUNG – Monday, September 13, 2010

RANGOON — Burmese entrepreneurs have recently raised concerns that they will be unable to compete with tax-exempt imports from other countries in the region when the Asean Free Trade Agreement (AFTA) goes into effect in Burma and other countries in 2015.

Signed on Jan. 28, 1992, in Singapore, the goal of AFTA is to increase Asean countries’ competitive edge as a production base in world markets through the elimination, within Asean member-states, of tariff and non-tariff barriers, in order to attract more foreign direct investment to Asean. Burma became a signatory of the AFTA agreement in 1997.

Business owners in an industrial zone in Rangoon said unnecessary production costs under the military regime and a poor economic infrastructure have made it difficult for businessmen even to  keep their enterprises.

“The AFTA will come later but don’t talk about foreign products now. At the moment, we can hardly compete with each other in the country,” said a  businessman.

Another businessman said, “Just give us electricity and techniques.”

An official with The Myanmar Indusstries Association (MIA) said three teams have been assigned to evaluate the situation of 29 industrial zones in Rangoon as preparation for  AFTA.

The  teams will conduct a market study  to assess regional and international markets and to determine commercial and industrial  technical practices and  procedures, he said.

Some industrialists said although discussions have gone on in preparation for  AFTA, most domestic products are still below the quality of goods entering from China.

The Rangoon-based 7 Day News journal quoted an industrial zone chairman who said that due to lack of domestic consumption and cheaper goods coming from China, businessmen are not interested in the AFTA agreement right now.

“Businessmen were told about AFTA a long time ago, but they just woke up,” said an economist from the Institute of Economics in Rangoon.

MIA joint-secretary Dr. Aung Thein wrote in a paper“Industry and AFTA-related Impact” that the AFTA agreement can be beneficial, but it is important to protect Burma’s domestic industry and market share while attempting to penetrate the Asean market.

According to the AFTA agreement, Asean members can apply a tariff rate of zero to 5 percent for goods originating within Asean countries.

The Irrawaddy – NLD and Ethnic Leaders Tour Kachin State
Saturday, October 16, 2010

Several leaders of the National League for Democracy (NLD), Burma’s recently dissolved main opposition party, are traveling in Kachin State with a prominent ethnic leader to meet with local party members and lobby for a boycott of next month’s election.

NLD central executive committee member Ohn Kyaing told The Irrawaddy that he and several other senior party members visited the state capital of Myitkyina on Friday with ethnic Arakanese politician Aye Thar Aung to brief NLD members on the party’s stand on the Nov. 7 election.

Ohn Kyaing, who is a spokesperson for the NLD, said that the meetings were held in the homes of party members and were also attended by local people with an interest in Burma’s current political situation.

“Local party members actively discussed the election boycott and how to make the NLD stronger,” said Ohn Kyaing. “Some Kachin young people who are not NLD members also came to listen to us speak and to discuss these issues.”

Aye Thar Aung, who is the chairman of the Arakan League for Democracy and also the general secretary of the Committee Representing the People’s Parliament, a group consisting of parliamentarians elected when Burma last went to the polls in 1990, spoke about the need for unity and solidarity among Burma’s ethnic peoples and the NLD’s future plans, according to Ohn Kyaing.

Aye Aye Mar, another leading member of the NLD, discussed detained party leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s message to the Burmese public, while other speakers covered a range of issues, from the role of young people in the election boycott to the decision of some senior party members to break away from the NLD to form a new party, the National Democratic Force, to run in the election.

The senior NLD members also visited several other townships in Kachin State on Thursday to brief local party members on the NLD’s position on the general election. Around 400 members attended the briefing on Thursday, said Ohn Kyaing.

The NLD leaders arrived in Myitkyina on Friday and are scheduled to visit other parts of Kachin State on Saturday. It was not clear if they planned to meet with ethnic Kachin politicians or the leaders of Kachin cease-fire groups.

NLD leaders have been touring Burma to meet with party members for the past several months and have continued their activities despite being banned by the junta-appointed Union Election Commission on Sept. 14 for failing to re-register their party to contest the election.

On Oct. 5, Suu Kyi filed a lawsuit against the Burmese military regime at Rangoon Supreme Court, accusing the junta of illegally dissolving her party.

The NLD won the 1990 election by a landslide, but was never allowed to take power. Instead, its leader Suu Kyi has been detained for more than 15 of the past 21 years. Her latest term of house arrest is due to end on Nov. 13, just days after Burma’s first general election in 20 years.

The Irrawaddy – New Intelligence Chief Undertakes Major Overhaul
Saturday, October 16, 2010

Following a major shakeup at the highest levels of Burma’s ruling junta last month, the new military intelligence chief, Maj-Gen Kyaw Swe, is moving fast to rebuild the agency he now heads after years marked by conspicuous failure on several fronts.

As the new head of Military Affairs Security (MAS), Kyaw Swe replaces Lt-Gen Ye Myint, who sources say has been faulted by regime leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe for not foreseeing the upsurge in popular unrest that came to a head in September 2007, when thousands of monks took to the streets in the largest show of opposition to military rule in two decades.

More recently, Ye Myint displeased Burma’s top general by failing to win over armed cease-fire groups with a plan to transform them into border guard forces under Burmese military command before this year’s election.

According to military sources, the MAS has in recent years come to rely heavily on exiled media websites and Burmese-language shortwave radio stations broadcasting from overseas for much of its information.

“The MAS doesn’t do much work in the field these days. That’s why it hasn’t accomplished very much,” one source said, adding that Than Shwe appointed Kyaw Swe as his new spy chief to change this situation.

Kyaw Swe, who is in his early 50s, is a former rector of the elite Defense Services Academy (DSA). Since late November 2007, he has been the commander of the Southwestern Regional Military Command, a position that traditionally leads to senior-level military postings.

Military sources say that Kyaw Swe first caught Than Shwe’s attention when, as commandant of the DSA, he started sending promising young officers to Russia to further their studies.

A graduate of DSA Intake 22, Kyaw Swe began his career in the early 1990s, holding general staff officer positions in the Directorate of Defense Services Intelligence (DDSI), as the military intelligence agency was known until 2004, when it was abolished as part of the purge of former intelligence chief Gen Khin Nyunt.

“Because he used to be a spy himself, Kyaw Swe understands spy networks very well. He also has the respect of the commanders of local intelligence units,” said a source in Rangoon with close connections to the Burmese military

As part of his effort to revitalize the MAS, which was formed to replace the DDSI, Kyaw Swe has begun ordering local intelligence units to reorganize their networks and recruit paid and unpaid informers, the source added.

This would put the MAS more in line with the practices of the DDSI, which was widely feared throughout the country for its extensive network of informers, including many who operated among political activists and prisoners.

Under Khin Nyunt, the DDSI monitored not only dissidents and ordinary civilians, but also high-ranking military personnel, creating intelligence units that were even more powerful than senior military commands.

This in turn resulted in Khin Nyunt’s ouster and subsequent house arrest. Many other intelligence officers above the rank of captain were given long-term prison sentences or were
forced to resign.

Voices from the electorate
Monday, 18 October 2010 00:39
Mizzima News

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – The following is a collection of opinions from a cross-section of Burmese society on the country’s present political climate and the upcoming national elections. Mizzima reporters chose the subjects at random.

Than Tun, Kyunbopin village, (between the Chindwin River and Pakokku Township) Pakokku District, Magway Division

“Since I have been listening to the BBC, VOA and RFA, I know about the election. The people have always been exploited by village leaders and leaders of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). I didn’t go to the polling station when the 2008 constitution referendum took place because there was no truth in it at all. At that time I heard that village leaders via a loudspeaker threatening villagers. The chairman of the village, Ko Sein Hlaing, said that if villagers voted ‘no’ they would be punished with a one-year jail term. That is why all villagers needed to vote in support of the referendum.”

Ravekarwin, singer, Rangoon

“My hope is that the new government will create a better situation by addressing social needs such as education, social affairs and economics. I’m willing to vote for the party that can guarantee the things I mentioned.”

Female former staff member of a government employee co-operative

“I’ve decided that I’m not going to vote for any party. I’ve no plan to go to the polling station since the laws are not fair. All villagers around me have been organised to vote for the Union Solidarity and Development party, but they can’t force educated people like me the same way. People who’ve not been educated well and who might succumb to threats will be the only ones to vote for them [USDP]. The voters who are going to vote for them are actually people who misuse the nation’s money and property.”

Male resident, Nyaungoo District, Pagan Township, Mandalay Division

“In my area, the USDP has been canvassing by delivering T-shirts and hats. For me, I’m not going to vote because none of these guys is any good. My family will also not go to the polling station. All these guys have been lying and cheating the national budget! I did take a hat and shirt when they offered it to me because they are free.

Female merchant, Kyaukpataung Township, Mandalay Division

“There will be no reason to vote. I’m not going to vote for anyone and I’m also going to tell those around me that there’s no one to vote for.”

Chatgyi, restaurateur, Saku Township, Magway Division

“They [pro-junta social organisations] gave eye treatment for the whole of Minbu [Township], including villagers from Saku Township. They also treated us for any diseases. For those who needed an operation or spectacles, they would be offered their needs and fed free meals. They told us that all government sectors had been constructing dams, schools, reservoirs, bridges and power plants.”

Ko Thet, Pagan Township

“All the guys who are going to compete in the coming election are Pagoda Affairs management members. All these guys have been cheating the people by stealing money related to donations for the pagodas. Think of that! These guys are going to try to be leaders of the people! What will be the future of our nation? For me, because I’ve no idea who I would vote for, I won’t be going to vote. Since a ballot should come from my heart, I shouldn’t vote for a meaningless person. Not voting is my right. For people in cities there’ll be no problems with boycotting the vote, but people from remote areas have to go and vote because they need to be wary of the authorities.”

Phyo Min Ko, Pwintphyu Township, Magway Division

“When the Union Solidarity and Development Party calls a meeting we can earn maybe 2,000 kyat (around US$2), but if there are many people we’ll only get 1,000 kyat.”

Male resident, Sittwe Township, Arakan State

“I am not so interested in the election. Some people say they are going to vote for Rakhine [Arakanese] parties in Rakhine [Arakan] State. Most people, however, aren’t very interested in this election. Everyone, though, wants change. If they are forced to vote, they will not vote for the USDP, and will instead vote for one of our two Rakhine parties.”

Female resident, Kyauktaw Township, Arakan State

“Some read newspapers, watch TV, buy and read journals, but for us, since we are villagers, we do not know very much. What is happening now is that in all villages, only the USDP is established.”

Editor faces 13 years behind bars
Friday, 15 October 2010 11:34
Myint Maung

New Delhi (Mizzima) – A special tribunal in Insein prison on October 13 sentenced Kandarawaddy news journal editor Nyi Nyi Tun and businessman Soe Tun Oo to prison terms of 13 and eight years, respectively.

The Seikkan Township court, sitting inside Insein prison, found Nyi Nyi Tun guilty under section 17(1) of the Unlawful Associations Act, section 13(1) of the Immigration Emergency Provisions Act, section 505(b) of the Penal Code and section 6(1) of the Wireless Act. Meanwhile, Soe Moe Tun was sentenced for violating the association and immigration acts.

After being sentenced, Nyi Nyi Tun told family members that he was tortured during interrogation. He also handed them a piece of paper reading, “Comrades! The junta gave me a 13-year prison term for serving as a matchmaker between people and politics,” according to his lawyer Kyaw Hoe.

“They were given maximum sentences. There were no eyewitnesses in these cases. They could not prove the cases with sound evidence,” their lawyer told Mizzima.

Police officers from the Rangoon Division Police Chief Office arrested Nyi Nyi Tun and Soe Moe Tun in Thingangyun Township of Rangoon Division upon suspicion of having connections with a series of bomb blasts that rocked Rangoon in October 2009.

“Instead of encouraging media development, they obstructed media, which is the ears and eyes of the country. So, our media association condemns these matters,” responded Zin Lin, vice-chairman of the exile-based Burma Media Association (BMA).

Nyi Nyi Tun had been working as editor-in-chief of the Kandarawaddy news journal, published in the Kayah special region since 2007. Following his arrest the journal was closed. Soe Tun Oo is a businessman.

Advocates Kyaw Hoe and Tin Tun, the latter of who is the father of Soe Tun Oo, gave notice they would appeal the verdicts within the mandated 30-day period.

The Thai-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) website lists nearly 2,200 political prisoners in various prisons across Burma.

DVB News – New initiative reignites Burma tourism debate
Published: 15 October 2010

A new campaign promoting Burma and three other countries as a single tourism destination has reignited debate on the ethics of travel to the military-ruled Southeast Asian nation.

Tourism ministers from Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Burma announced the “Four Countries: One Destination” campaign at an international travel expo in Ho Chi Minh City earlier this month. The four countries will aim to improve transport links between their major attractions and encourage tour operators to design cross-border tours.

The initiative aims to help the countries compete with more popular destinations such as Thailand and China. A two-week tour could see tourists take in Halong Bay in Vietnam, the historic Laotian city of Luang Prabang, Angkor Wat in Cambodia and the ruined Burmese city of Bagan – arguably just as spectacular as the famous Khmer temple complex.

But travel to Burma remains controversial. Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opposition leader under house arrest in Rangoon, has urged a boycott of travel to the country, arguing tourism merely lines the pockets of the military and its cronies. The junta has also been accused of using forced labour in the construction of hotels.

Last year rumours surfaced that Suu Kyi had dropped her opposition to travel to Burma, though her party, the National League for Democracy, made no official announcement indicating a change of policy. Anna Roberts of the Burma Campaign UK told DVB her organisation supported the policies of the democracy movement, “and they have called for tourists to stay away”.

“As this new initiative demonstrates, Burma’s generals have identified tourism as a potential major source of income,” she said. “Some people argue that it is all right to go on holiday to Burma as local people will benefit. It’s true a small number of people do benefit from tourism, but millions suffer from the regime it helps to fund.”

But many observers take a different view. The Free Burma Coalition, a political initiative which spent years advocating a tourism boycott, reversed its position after deciding pro-sanctions campaigns had failed to achieve change in Burma. Dr Maung Zarni, the organisation’s founder, is broadly in favour of tourism. “I know it is against the views of the pro-sanctions crowd, but I would like more people to go,” he told DVB. Tourists should nevertheless avoid government-run facilities where possible, he said, adding that most five-star hotels were joint ventures with the government.

Derek Tonkin, former UK ambassador to Vietnam, Thailand and Laos and chairman of the Network Myanmar advocacy group, is another tourism advocate. Tonkin argues that avoiding government-run hotels is now less of a concern than it was. “All the old state institutions, the restaurants and hotels have been sold off to the private sector, and were sold off at the beginning of the 1990s,” he said, claiming the majority were now 100% owned by foreign companies.

The amount of money the regime derives from tourism is small, Tonkin said. According to the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, 227,400 visitors visited Burma last year. Those tourists
brought in around $US200 million, Tonkin estimates. “It’s ceased to be –  if it ever was – a main source of income for the regime,” he said, adding that the regime’s real source of income – sales of natural gas – bring in about $US200 million every month.

Tourism advocates argue the industry supports a large number of people who suffer from the boycott. Tonkin says the industry employs around 600,000 people. “That includes everyone down to the postcard seller, the taxi drivers and the tour guides, whether they’re official or unofficial… I see tourism very much as a means of breaking through Burma’s isolation and getting to the people,” he said.

On November 7, Burma will hold its first elections in 20 years. Following the polls, few observers look likely to change their views on the tourism boycott. The Burma Campaign UK’s view of the polls is typical of most in the pro-democracy movement.

“Everyone knows that the sham elections in November won’t bring Burma closer to freedom and democracy, the elections are designed to maintain dictatorship. That’s why we need the international community to unite behind a UN-led effort to pressure the dictatorship to open dialogue with the democracy movement and ethnic representatives,” said Roberts.


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Editor - The Myanmar Gazette || First Amendment – Religion and Expression - Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

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