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BURMA RELATED NEWS – OCTOBER 28, 2010
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AP – Clinton: US will push for UN commission on Myanmar
AP – ASEAN presses Myanmar to free Aung San Suu Kyi
AP – Myanmar says top general will not run in elections
AFP – Clinton backs probe on Myanmar rights
AFP – Clinton says US wants to get China ties ‘right’
AFP – Myanmar offer on Suu Kyi ‘craven manipulation’: US
AFP – ASEAN leaders meet as turbulence buffets region
AFP – Myanmar says Suu Kyi may be freed after elections
Reuters – Obama admin. split on Burma engagement: senator
UPI – Role for civilians in Myanmar welcomed
OneNewsNow – Persecution in Burma caught on camera
IRC(press release) – IRC responds after Cyclone Giri batters Myanmar
Sin Chew Jit Poh – Myanmar junta chief’s ‘retirement’ unlikely: Philippines
Monsters and Critics – ANALYSIS: Post-election offensive feared against Myanmar rebel groups
Bernama – India Questions Usefulness Of Possible Myanmar Probe
Bangkok Post – Burmese cross in thousands for election
TerraDaily – Japan offers two-billion-dollar environment rescue package
Radio Australia – Burma minorities protest over vote blacklist
The Irrawaddy – Govt Media Crank Up Propaganda
The Irrawaddy – Than Shwe May Not be President
The Irrawaddy – The Malaise Below the Surface
Mizzima News – Mandalay mosquito-coil fire leaves 34 families homeless
Mizzima News – Junta poised to hold power until parliaments convened
DVB News – India cautions on ‘adverse’ UN probe
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Clinton: US will push for UN commission on Myanmar
By AUDREY McAVOY, Associated Press – 9 mins ago

HONOLULU (AP) – Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says the U.S. will continue to push for the creation of an international commission to investigate alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

Clinton said in a speech in Hawaii Thursday that the U.S. is committed to seeking accountability for “the human rights violations that have occurred in Burma.”

The United States is almost certain to face opposition from China, a close ally of Myanmar’s government. The U.S. called in August for creation of a U.N. war crimes commission to probe allegations against Myanmar.

Clinton spoke at the start of a two-week tour of the Asia-Pacific region. She’s due to leave Thursday for the U.S. territory of Guam, and will later travel to Vietnam.

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ASEAN presses Myanmar to free Aung San Suu Kyi
By JIM GOMEZ and VIJAY JOSHI, Associated Press  – 1 hr 1 min ago

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) – Southeast Asia’s top diplomats confronted Myanmar by demanding that democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi be freed before the country’s elections next month, while the U.N. chief warned Thursday that keeping thousands of political prisoners locked up could destroy the vote’s credibility.

Despite persistent pressure, Myanmar officials gave no clear answer about the fate of Suu Kyi, who has spent 15 of the past 21 years imprisoned or under house arrest.

But Myanmar confirmed that its military leader, Than Shwe, will not run in the Nov. 7 elections as the military regime attempted to present a new image to the world at a regional summit that opened Thursday in Vietnam.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told The Associated Press that by freeing its jailed dissidents, Myanmar could create a “perception that this election will be more inclusive,” even if it’s too late for the dissidents to run as candidates or to vote.

The Southeast Asian country’s military rulers have enacted laws that prevent Suu Kyi and other political prisoners from contesting the elections. That leaves the junta-backed party as its only strong contender, leading critics to accuse the regime of maneuvering to ensure that the military will remain in control.

“Without releasing all political prisoners, then there may certainly be some issue of legitimacy or credibility,” Ban told the AP in an interview in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

He spoke before flying to Hanoi, where he was to meet with Myanmar Prime Minister Gen. Thein Sein (pronounced “Tane Sane”) on the sidelines of the summit. Although Thein Sein represents his country at international events, he takes his orders from junta leader Than Shwe.

Myanmar officials refused to directly confirm whether Suu Kyi would be released from house arrest when her detention expires on Nov. 13.

“Now at this time I would strongly urge the Myanmar authorities that it is not too late — even at this time — to release all political prisoners so that the Nov. 7 elections could be more inclusive and more participatory and credible,” Ban said.

During a meeting with Myanmar’s prime minister, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III pressed for Suu Kyi’s immediate release, said presidential spokesman Ricky Carandang.
“There was no commitment and the president, I would say, was disappointed at the lack of response,” he said.

But Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said Myanmar also did not contest that her detention ends just after the elections, suggesting that perhaps she may be freed.
In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley dismissed the idea that hints of Suu Kyi’s release signaled anything but business-as-usual for the regime.

“This is a craven manipulation by Burma,” Crowley said. “How convenient that they’re hinting that she might be released after an election that is unlikely to be fair, free or credible.”
Suu Kyi’s party is boycotting the elections as undemocratic after winning a landslide victory in the country’s last elections in 1990. The junta refused to accept those results.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo said Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win announced that junta chief Than Shwe will not be on the ballot — the first confirmation from the reclusive government that the longtime military leader will not participate in the polls. However, he is widely expected to have some new role after the elections.

“You know the system they have. He will be elected president, I’m almost sure,” Romulo said.

The military junta, which has been in control for the past five decades, worked to put on a fresh face at the Hanoi meeting, unveiling a redesigned flag and new name — the former “Union of Myanmar” is now the “Republic of the Union of Myanmar.”

Such changes, critics say, are intended to mask the shortcomings of the long-awaited polls.

Another issue high on the summit agenda involves territorial disputes on the high seas between China and its neighbors.

China claims sovereignty over the entire South China Sea, but parts of it are also claimed by several of its Southeast Asian neighbors, including Vietnam. China recently clashed with Japan over a ship collision in the East China Sea, straining relations and stoking anti-Japanese protests.

Heads of state from the ASEAN countries — Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam — along with leaders from Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Russia and the United States will attend the summit.

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AP – Myanmar says top general will not run in elections
By JIM GOMEZ and VIJAY JOSHI, Associated Press – Thu Oct 28, 6:35 am ET

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) – Myanmar said its top leader will not run in next month’s elections as it presented a new image to the world at a regional summit, while the U.N. chief warned that the vote may lack legitimacy if the country’s junta does not release political prisoners.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told The Associated Press on Thursday that even though the freed dissidents will not be able to participate in the Nov. 7 elections, their release would at least create a “perception that this election will be more inclusive.”

The Southeast Asian country’s military rulers have enacted laws that prevent detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners from contesting the elections. That leaves the key junta-backed party as the only strong contender to win the elections, which have been slammed by critics as a pre-rigged sham.

“Without releasing all political prisoners, then there may certainly be some issue of legitimacy or credibility,” Ban said in the exclusive interview in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

He gave the interview before flying to Hanoi where he will meet with Myanmar Prime Minister Gen. Thein Sein (pronounced “Tane Sane”) on the sidelines of an annual regional summit. Although Thein Sein represents his country at international events, he takes his orders from junta leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe.

For the first time, the reclusive government confirmed that Than Shwe would not be participating in the national polls, according to diplomats at the Hanoi conference, though it remains unclear what role he may have after the elections.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo said Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win told his counterparts during an informal dinner Wednesday that Than Shwe will not be on the ballot.

It had been speculated that he would not run because his name did not appear on the candidates’ list, but Than Shwe had never spoken about his future and no officials had publicly broached the issue of his retirement. He is widely expected to have some new role and title after elections. Many think he could become the next president, which is not an elected position.

“You know the system they have. He will be elected president, I’m almost sure,” Romulo said.

The military junta, which has been in control for the past five decades, worked to put a fresh face on the oppressive country at the Hanoi meeting, unveiling a redesigned flag and new national name — going from “Union of Myanmar” to “Republic of the Union of Myanmar.”

Many observers fear the makeover is merely a facade to mask the shortcomings of the long-awaited Nov. 7 election.

The junta has billed the polling as a big move forward in the country’s so-called roadmap to democracy. Critics say the junta has taken steps to block transparency and ensure that the military remains in power by repressing the main opposition party and limiting campaigning.

Myanmar officials refused to directly confirm whether Suu Kyi, who’s been imprisoned or under house arrest for 15 of the past 21 years, would be released from her house arrest when her detention expires on Nov. 13.

“We expected and hoped that she should have been released much earlier,” Ban said. “Now at this time I would strongly urge the Myanmar authorities that it is not too late — even at this time — to release all political prisoners so that the Nov. 7 elections could be more inclusive and more participatory and credible,” he said.

Romulo said her fate remains uncertain. During the Wednesday dinner, Nyan Win, the Myanmar foreign minister, simply asserted that the country would follow its laws.

“We all pressed him to release Aung San Suu Kyi, but he was noncommittal,” said Romulo, adding that he told Nyan Win he is unconvinced she will be released at all.

“I am skeptical about that,” Romulo said he told Nyan Win. “She has been sentenced and after that she is re-sentenced again with another, so there’s no end to it.”

However, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said Myanmar did not contest that Suu Kyi’s detention ends on Nov. 13. He said that when pressed, Nyan Win would not confirm that the Nobel Peace Prize winner would be released unconditionally.

“Our understanding is that the term of her sentence will be expiring in November,” Natalegawa said. “And that understanding was not disputed.”

Suu Kyi’s party is boycotting the elections as undemocratic after winning a landslide victory in 1990 that was dismissed by the military leaders. Other world leaders also are expected to prod Myanmar during the three-day meeting.

China also is expected to dominate discussions following a number of territorial spats on the high seas.

China claims sovereignty over the entire South China Sea, but parts of it are also claimed by several of its Southeast Asian neighbors, including Vietnam. The Communist giant recently clashed with Japan over a ship collision in the East China Sea, straining relations and stoking anti-Japanese protests.

Heads of state from the ASEAN countries — Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam — along with leaders from Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Russia and the United States will attend the summit.

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Clinton backs probe on Myanmar rights
5 mins ago

HONOLULU (AFP) – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Thursday for an international probe of human rights violations in Myanmar, the most explicit US backing for the idea long sought by human rights activists.

Clinton’s call comes as the United States, which has been engaging the military-led regime, voices growing concern that November 7 elections will be unfair.

“I would like to underscore the United States’ commitment to seek accountability for the human rights violations that have occurred in Burma by working to establish an international Commission of Inquiry through close consultations with our friends, allies and other partners at the United Nations,” Clinton said in a speech in Hawaii.

Human rights groups say that Myanmar, also known as Burma, has one of the world’s worst human rights records, with the regime detaining thousands of opponents, systematically destroying ethnic minority villages and using rape as a weapon of war.

Several other countries including Australia and Britain have also supported a UN commission on inquiry on Myanmar, which could eventually bring criminal charges against the junta’s leaders.

A senior official in President Barack Obama’s administration said in August on condition of anonymity that the United States would support a probe.

But some analysts had believed the United States would hold off on more overt support for an investigation until after the election as it tries to preserve dialogue at a time of potential transition in Myanmar.

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Clinton says US wants to get China ties ‘right’
47 mins ago

HONOLULU, Hawaii (AFP) – Washington is committed to getting relations “right” with China, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Thursday ahead of talks next month between the US and Chinese presidents.

“The relationship between China and the United States is complex and of enormous consequence… but we are committed to getting it right,” Clinton said.

“There are some in both countries who believe that China’s interests and ours are fundamentally at odds. They apply a zero-sum calculation to our relationship, so whenever one of us succeeds, the other must fail,” Clinton said.

“But that is not our view. In the 21st century, it is not in anyone?s interest for the United States and China to see each other as adversaries.”

Clinton was in Honolulu for talks with Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara — whose country is embroiled in a spat with China over a disputed island chain in the East China Sea — at the start of a tour of the region.

In the grueling two-week tour, Clinton’s trip will include stops in Vietnam, China, Cambodia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Australia and American Samoa.

The White House earlier announced President Barack Obama will meet Chinese President Hu Jintao in South Korea next month as Sino-US economic tensions flare and territorial rows fester between Beijing and its neighbors.

Announcing Obama’s seventh bilateral talks with Hu, which they billed as a record for a US president in office for two years, White House officials also disputed suggestions that US-China relations were deteriorating.

Obama will meet Hu, in talks which will prepare the way for the Chinese leader’s visit to the United States in January, in Seoul on November 11, ahead of the G20 economic summit, the White House said.

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Myanmar offer on Suu Kyi ‘craven manipulation’: US
33 mins ago

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States on Thursday accused Myanmar’s military regime of “craven manipulation” of its election by offering to release democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi only after voting.

In unusually strong comments, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley renewed demands that Myanmar, also known as Burma, free all political prisoners and allow Suu Kyi to participate in the November 7 election.

“This is a craven manipulation by Burma. How convenient that they are hinting that she might be released after an election that is unlikely to be fair, free or credible,” Crowley told reporters.

Myanmar’s Foreign Minister Nyan Win highlighted the plan to release the Nobel laureate, who has been detained for 15 of the last 21 years, as his regime faced criticism at talks in Vietnam among Southeast Asian nations.

“Burma knows what it has to do. It has to open up its political space for Aung San Suu Kyi and others to participate fully in the politics of Burma,” Crowley said.

“It has to release its political prisoners — all of them — and it has to have meaningful dialogue with all elements of Burmese society.”

Despite mounting international criticism of the election, the United States has indicated it plans to continue a policy of engaging the military regime.

President Barack Obama’s administration last year opened talks with the junta after concluding that longstanding efforts to isolate Myanmar had failed.

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ASEAN leaders meet as turbulence buffets region
by Sarah Stewart – 1 hr 53 mins ago

HANOI (AFP) – Southeast Asian leaders met in Vietnam’s capital Thursday for talks overshadowed by criticism of pariah member Myanmar’s looming elections and pressure to release democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit takes place as the region is assailed by currency tensions, territorial disputes and apprehension over China’s increasingly assertive behaviour.

In an afternoon retreat, the 10 leaders worked on ambitious plans to bind their 10 nations and 580 million people into a community with close economic and political ties.

They also tackled the global “currency wars” that threaten to destabilise their emerging economies by sending exchange rates shooting up and inviting a flood of foreign capital.

“They discussed… investment flows, about the pace of development… about the situation in the global markets that might not be conducive,” said ASEAN secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan.

“Next year there might be some challenges for us for our own recovery because of the lack of progress and dynamism in the traditional western markets,” he said.

But Surin said the more contentious issues would be discussed over dinner later Thursday. On the menu are likely to be China’s territorial ambitions in the South China Sea which have alarmed regional nations who are also claimants.

The leaders are also expected to quiz Myanmar, whose foreign minister Nyan Win attempted to deflect a barrage of complaints in Hanoi over the November 7 elections by saying Suu Kyi may be released soon after the vote.

“We were told that she will have completed her term of imprisonment by the first 10 days, probably, after the elections,” ASEAN secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan said.

“We were told that there will be no more reason to keep her in house arrest. But for that we will have to wait. It was not a clear-cut commitment,” he said.

Authorities in Myanmar have previously told AFP that the democracy leader will be released when her current term of house arrest expires on November 13, but the military state has made no official confirmation.

There was a cautious response to the comments from a regime that has kept Suu Kyi detained for 15 of the last 21 years, and which in the past has set her free only to produce new charges to justify a return to detention.

“No, I’m not satisfied,” Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo said. “Not only an assurance but I want it to happen, that no new charges will be filed,” he said in unusually strong comments.

The gathering of the ASEAN bloc shifts gear Saturday when it widens into the 16-nation East Asia Summit, also taking in Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.

Talks mooted between Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and his Japanese counterpart Naoto Kan after the two nations became embroiled in their worst diplomatic row in years, centred on a disputed East China Sea island chain, are in doubt.

A meeting scheduled for Friday between the economic ministers of Japan, China and South Korea has already been cancelled, casting further doubt on the two-way talks between Asia’s biggest powers.

Japanese media, citing an unnamed government source, reported that Beijing had cancelled the meeting over its export restrictions on rare earth minerals, but China’s foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu blamed a scheduling conflict.

Tokyo has accused Beijing of using its near-global monopoly on the trade in rare earths, minerals vital to high-tech manufacturers, as a weapon in the row triggered by the arrest of a Chinese fishing boat captain in disputed waters seven weeks ago.

In a parallel issue, the United States and Southeast Asian countries are concerned over China’s increasingly aggressive approach to maritime sovereignty in the South China Sea, a strategic waterway where several nations have competing claims.

“We must ensure that this does not become an issue that is going to burden ASEAN, that creates the impression as if our region is afflicted by tensions, by competitions,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said Wednesday.

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Myanmar says Suu Kyi may be freed after elections
by Martin Abbugao – 28 mins ago

HANOI (AFP) – Myanmar has said that democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi may be freed after November 7 elections, as it attempts to deflect a barrage of criticism over the discredited polls.

Myanmar’s elections, the nation’s first in two decades, have been derided as a sham by critics who say they lack any credibility without the participation of Suu Kyi and other opposition figures.

Foreign Minister Nyan Win flagged the release at Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) talks.

There was a cautious response to the comments from a regime that has kept Suu Kyi detained for 15 of the past 21 years but the United States accused Myanmar of “craven manipulation” of its election.

“We were told that she will have completed her term of imprisonment by the first 10 days, probably, after the elections,” ASEAN secretary general Surin Pitsuwan told reporters Thursday.

“We were told that there will be no more reason to keep her in house arrest. But for that we will have to wait. It was not a clear-cut commitment,” he said of comments made at a dinner meeting Wednesday.

US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley renewed demands that Myanmar, also known as Burma, free all political prisoners and allow Suu Kyi to participate in the election.

“This is a craven manipulation by Burma. How convenient that they are hinting that she might be released after an election that is unlikely to be fair, free or credible,” Crowley told reporters in Washington.

And amid the concern over the election, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking in Hawaii, called for an international probe of human rights violations in Myanmar, the most explicit US backing for the idea long sought by human rights activists.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo said he tackled Nyan Win on the regime’s tendency to release Suu Kyi, only to produce new charges that see her swiftly returned to detention.

“No, I’m not satisfied,” he said when asked whether he accepted the minister’s statement that Suu Kyi may be freed.

“Not only an assurance but I want it to happen, that no new charges will be filed,” he said in unusually strong comments among a bloc that has a tradition of non-interference in other members’ affairs.

Authorities in Myanmar have previously told AFP that the democracy leader will be released when her current term of house arrest expires on November 13, but the military state has made no official confirmation.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said that Myanmar’s neighbours were anticipating an imminent release after the polls, and that Nyan Win had not disputed that.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon — who holds talks Friday with ASEAN leaders — has joined Western governments who have repeatedly said the vote will not be credible while Suu Kyi and other opponents are in detention.

Ban has expressed his growing “frustration” with the Myanmar junta in recent weeks and called on its neighbours to be more aggressive with its pariah neighbour or risk tarnishing their own democratic credentials.

Uncertainty over whether the military regime will indeed release the 65-year-old, known reverently among Myanmar’s people as “The Lady”, will remain until the moment she appears in public.

The junta, humiliated by its crashing defeat to Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, in disallowed 1990 polls, has prolonged Suu Kyi’s confinement almost continuously ever since.

Her current spell of detention stems from her imprisonment in May last year — just days before a previous period of house arrest came to an end — due to a bizarre incident in which an American swam to her lakeside home.

She was initially given three years in jail and hard labour but was returned to her crumbling family home in August 2009 after her sentence was commuted to one-and-a-half-years’ house arrest by junta leader Than Shwe.

Southeast Asian lawmakers have savaged the election plans and urged the region’s leaders to refuse to recognise the flawed process and put it at the top of the agenda of ASEAN’s summit Thursday.

Amnesty International said Myanmar’s human rights record had only worsened in the run-up to the polls, despite promises they would be held in a “free, fair and inclusive manner”.

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Obama admin. split on Burma engagement: senator
Wed Oct 27, 7:45 pm ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama’s administration faces internal divisions that have so far prevented it from seizing opportunities to engage Myanmar’s military rulers, a key senator said on Wednesday.

Senator Jim Webb, the chair of a Senate subcommittee on East Asia who traveled to Myanmar last year, is an outspoken proponent of deepening ties with the isolated country, which he said risked becoming a “a province of China” otherwise.

The Obama administration last November launched the highest-level talks with the reclusive junta in 14 years, but has since publicly expressed deep disappointment with Myanmar’s response to U.S. outreach.

“I don’t think that this administration took advantage of the opportunities that were presented to it,” Webb told a small group of defense reporters in Washington.

Webb said U.S. diplomats at the State Department were divided over the issue, and effectively failed to act on diplomatic signals from Burma last year that offered an opportunity for “a different formula” on engagement.

“There was a big division in the State Department over whether to do that or not,” he said.

“I think Secretary (of State Hillary) Clinton was inclined to a certain point to want to try. But there was an awful lot of pressure on the other side.”

The comments come ahead of a trip by Clinton to this week’s East Asia summit in Vietnam, and just days before Myanmar’s November 7 elections, which rights groups deride as a sham designed to entrench military power in the country formerly known as Burma.

The elections will be the first since 1990 polls won by detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party but ignored by the junta.

Washington has dismissed preparations for the November polls as failing to meet basic democratic standards, and has also expressed concern over growing ties between Myanmar and Asian nuclear renegade North Korea.

“It’s a very complicated issue, because we all respect Aung San Suu Kyi and the sacrifices she has made,” Webb said. “And yet, on the other hand, we are in a situation where if we do not push some form of constructive engagement, Burma is going to basically become a province of China.”

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Role for civilians in Myanmar welcomed
Published: Oct. 28, 2010 at 11:36 AM

HANOI, Vietnam, Oct. 28 (UPI) — Despite an international uproar, scholars on Myanmar said even a small role for civilians in the reclusive military government is a step in the right direction.

Myanmar has a general election next month for the first time in two decades. Authorities told members of the international community at last month’s U.N. General Assembly meeting that more than 30 parties were to take part in the election.

The military, however, is guaranteed a portion of the seats in parliament, prompting observers to say the election is far from inclusive.

Bridget Welsh, a scholar on Myanmar at the Singapore Management University, told al-Jazeera that even a minor role for civilians was a welcome step.

“The government has given civilians some room to campaign in these polls, although very small, it is still significant for those living in Myanmar,” she said. “The international community needs to understand that any form of space here means a lot to its citizens.”

Alberto Romulo, the foreign secretary for the Philippines, said on the sidelines of an Asian summit in Vietnam that Myanmar authorities said top military leader Than Shwe wouldn’t run in the election.

“It remains to be seen (whether he will bow out) but my feeling is that he will be elected to a higher office, perhaps the presidency, something where he still (holds) control,” he told the news agency.

The presidency is an unelected position in Myanmar.

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Persecution in Burma caught on camera
Charlie Butts – OneNewsNow – 10/28/2010 3:35:00 AM

A humanitarian group has released a shocking documentary about relief efforts for Burmese Christians along the Burma-Thailand border.

For more than 60 years, Burmese soldiers have raided the border camps, killing and wounding Karen Christians. Craig McDonald of Christian Freedom International (CFI) suggests Burma, which is also known as Myanmar, is trying to exterminate the Christians.

“There is basically, what we consider in Burma, an ethnic cleansing going on,” McDonald explains. “Because the military regime does not agree with the Christian faith, they’re trying to wipe out all the Christians in the nation.”

The organization operates around the clock in trying to provide aid and Bibles for the Karen Christians, which is often a dangerous task. In fact, some who have been caught have been executed.

In an effort to raise awareness about the 24/7 operation to seek out, tend to, and spotlight Christians who are being intimidated, raped, killed and driven from their homes, CFI recently sponsored a trip for members of a popular Irish Christian band called Bluetree. The journey was caught on video to produce the DVD, Banned in Burma, which is available on the CFI’s website.

“While in Burma, the band got caught by the Burmese military, and it was quite a scary situation,” McDonald accounts. “But we were able to get all of that on video.”

The purpose of the DVD is to show the plight of the Karen Christians and just how dangerous the situation really is for them and aid workers.

Banned in Burma Documentary Released

SAULT STE. MARIE, MI — October 6, 2010 — Christian Freedom International (CFI), a Michigan-based organization that assists persecuted Christians around the world, has announced the release of “Banned in Burma,” a DVD documentary that depicts the violent reality of Burma’s ongoing civil war.

The “Banned in Burma” film features a visit to the war-torn region by Bluetree, an Irish Christian rock band whose popularity in the U.S. skyrocketed with the release of their hit song, “God of this City.” Bluetree became outspoken supporters of CFI and their mission to the persecuted church after visiting the organization’s “Crisis in Burma” tent exhibition at the Big Ticket festival in Gaylord, Michigan last summer. Overcome by the magnitude of Burma’s humanitarian crisis that has claimed the lives of thousands and displaced thousands more over the past six decades, the members of Bluetree were compelled to witness the devastation for themselves, despite the risk of entering such a restricted nation.

The band was accompanied into the war-torn region in February by CFI president Jim Jacobson, who has personally made countless trips into Burma over the past 10 years to help deliver Bibles and humanitarian supplies to suffering ethnic Christians.

By the end of the trip, however, the band had performed for over 15,000 Karen refugees at the Mae La refugee camp in Thailand, as well as an audience at CFI’s Vocational School and a local church in Mae Sot.

CFI operates a number of schools, medical clinics and orphanages in Burma and Thailand for persecuted ethnic Christians who suffer under genocidal persecution at the hands of Burma’s military government, and urges the international community to denounce the junta’s widespread human rights abuses against its own citizens. “Banned in Burma” is CFI’s latest project to highlight a conflict that has become the longest-running civil war in human history.

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International Rescue Committee (press release)
IRC responds after Cyclone Giri batters Myanmar

Yangon, Myanmar 28 Oct 2010 – The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is mobilizing as part of a coordinated humanitarian effort to offer assistance to communities affected by Cyclone Giri, which struck the northwestern coast of Myanmar last week. According to the government, some 71,000 people were displaced and over 14,000 homes destroyed by the storm while 1.1 million people have been affected in Rakhine State. The IRC’s efforts will initially focus on food and the distribution of clean water and emergency supplies.

An IRC team of water and sanitation and emergency plannning specialists traveled  to the affected areas on October 28 to assess the damage and begin distribution of emergency supplies to some 6,000 people. Supplies include rice, oil, blankets, jerry cans, plastic sheeting, eating utensils, mosquito nets and sleeping mats.

As the IRC’s emergency response accelerates over the next few days, it will distribute household and hygiene kits, construct emergency latrines, set up emergency water treatment and distribution units, hand out water purification tablets and erect tanks capable of storing thousands of liters of drinking water. All told these efforts will aid 60,000 people in affected areas.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, is frequently hit by tropical storms. In  2008, the IRC mounted a large relief effort after Cyclone Nargis left 138,000 people dead and displaced millions, mostly in the southwest delta region.

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Sin Chew Jit Poh – Myanmar junta chief’s ‘retirement’ unlikely: Philippines
2010-10-28 17:46

HANOI, Thursday 28 October 2010 (AFP) – Myanmar has said that its military ruler Than Shwe will bow out of politics after next month’s elections, but the assurances should be viewed with deep scepticism, the Philippines said Thursday.

“I cannot imagine that after two decades where he held on to power he will suddenly give it up and no more. I cannot believe that,” Philippines Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo said on the sidelines of a regional summit.

Romulo said his Myanmar counterpart Nyan Win had confirmed at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in Hanoi that Than Shwe would not take part in the November 7 polls.

“He said he will not run. But you know they can elect anybody who did not run,” he told reporters, referring to the process under which a president and vice-presidents will be appointed.

“It remains to be seen (whether he will bow out), but my feeling is that he will be elected to a higher office, perhaps the presidency, something where he still (holds) control.”

A foreign ministry official from one of the ASEAN delegations also said Nyan Win had said Than Shwe would not run for any seat in the November 7 polls — widely criticised as a sham aimed at cementing the junta’s grip on power.

“Than Shwe is not running. He will bow out of the political scene,” the source told AFP.

Under Myanmar’s new parliamentary system, there will be two national assemblies — one lower and one upper house — and a number of regional assemblies.

The source said that Nyan Win reported he was himself running for a post in the one of the regional assemblies and was sure to win because he enjoyed strong popularity in his region.

But, being a regional lawmaker, he won’t be eligible for a cabinet post.

Myanmar also introduced its new flag during a meeting of senior officials on Monday, according to the source. The banner features a large, lone star which is meant to represent the country’s unity.

Than Shwe’s future has been the subject of much rumour in Myanmar lately, with many scenarios envisioned. But after the biggest military reshuffle in decades which took place in September — which left him on top of the heap in the military — several experts have tipped him to move into the presidency.

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Monsters and Critics – ANALYSIS: Post-election offensive feared against Myanmar rebel groups
By Peter Janssen Oct 28, 2010, 4:02 GMT

Bangkok – Few people have high hopes for real change after Myanmar’s November 7 general election, its first in 20 years, but for the country’s ethnic minority rebel groups, the polls threaten to bring change for the worse.

‘The election is not for the Kachin people,’ said Laphai Naw Din, editor of the Kachin News Group, which operates on the Thai-Myanmar border. ‘After the election, the war will start.’

The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) is one of six guerilla groups in northern and north-eastern Myanmar that have refused to submit to the ruling military junta. In 1994, the Kachin signed a ceasefire with the regime, allowing them semi-autonomy to govern in their territories in Kachin state and even keep their own army.

Last year, however, the junta insisted the ‘ceasefire groups’ were to cease to exist. As part of the regime’s election preparations, the ceasefire areas were to set up political parties and turn their armies into ‘border guard forces’ under the military’s control.

Among the rebels who refused to comply were the KIA with an estimated force of 7,000, the United Wa State Army with 30,000 fighters, the Shan State Army/North (SSA) with 5,000, the Karen National Liberation Army with fewer than 8,000, the New Mon State Party with 1,000 and a breakaway faction of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army with 1,400.

In retaliation, the regime has barred rebel-controlled portions of the Kachin, Karen, Wa and Shan states from voting.

The election commission also rejected applications from a Kachin party and Kachin independents to contest the polls.

More worrisome, the junta has cut off all communications with the KIA since September 1 and in public speeches has referred to the movement as an ‘insurgency’ for the first time since signing the ceasefire.

Whether the military in Myanmar, which was once named Burma, would launch an offensive against the Kachin and other ethnic groups in the post-election period remained open.

‘I would say the ethnic minorities shouldn’t be worried about being attacked by the Burmese army for the next six months,’ said Khunsai Jaiyen, editor of the Shan Herald Agency, another news agency based along the Thai-Myanmar border.

Khunsai argued it would take the regime three months to set up a new government and it might take another three months for them to get used to their civilian clothes.

The pro-junta Union Solidarity and Development Party, packed with former military men, was expected to win the polls.

The Shan people can vote for the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party, a Yangon-based party that has fielded 157 candidates.

In the 1990 election, the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy won 23 seats in a statewide victory. There are hopes that the new party would do similarly well this time round.

Khunsai said he was confident that if the military attacks the SSA, the United Wa State Army, one of the best-armed insurgencies in South-East Asia thanks to its lucrative methamphetamines trade, would come to its aid.

In August last year, the military launched a 48-hour attack on Laogai, the capital of the Kokang region in Shan state, crushing the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, as the Kokang rebel army was called.

The attack sent 30,000 Kokang refugees across the border into China, irking Myanmar’s big neighbour and one of its few allies.

Since the Kokang attack, the six rebel armies have formed an alliance, promising to come to each other’s aid should the junta launch another attack.

Thai military sources suspected the most likely first target would be the Karen National Liberation Army, which has been weakened by years of fighting and internal dissension.

‘If the Karens were defeated in a swift military offensive, the Myanmar army could claim they had ended the oldest insurgency and that would send a chilling sign to the other groups,’ said Maung Zarni, a research fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

The Karen have been fighting for the autonomy of their state since 1949 with the military having failed for the past six decades to defeat them.

Whatever their outcome, the November 7 polls were not expected to miraculously improve the Myanmar army’s fighting skills.

‘They cannot win, unless they are prepared to commit genocide,’ Maung Zarni said.

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India Questions Usefulness Of Possible Myanmar Probe

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 28 (Bernama) — Following a proposal by an independent human rights expert to set up Commission of Inquiry into alleged human rights violations in Myanmar, India questioned the utility of such a probe with a “fact finding mandate”, Press Trust of India (PTI) reported.

India has pointed out such action may be “counter productive” and “end up adversely affecting the very people it is supposed to help” in the military-ruled country.

An Indian diplomat Acquino Vimal told a General Assembly Committee that there is no mention of such an inquiry in the report on Myanmar released by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

“We have, however, noted that this (“fact finding mandate”) does not find any reference in the UN Secretary General’s report on Myanmar,” Vimal said last week.

“We would like to have the Special Rapporteur’s views on how such a course of action proposed by him would be compatible with the UNSG’s Good Offices process,” he added.

India noted that November 7 elections would be a forward step “in the national reconciliation process and democratic transition” of Myanmar.

“We believe that the focus of efforts of the international community should be on ensuring constructive engagement with Myanmar,” said Vimal.

Noting that “Myanmar was an important neighbour of India,” the diplomat underlined the importance of “peace and stability on our borders.”

Ahead of the landmark elections, UN human rights expert Tomas Ojea Quintana has stressed that “justice and accountability” were a key “to any transition” into a democracy and “national reconciliation.”

“If the government fails to assume these responsibilities then the international community must take action,” he said, adding, “Commission of inquiry should not be considered as a means to punish but as a tool to address impunity.”

Quintana had also pointed out to countries that “delegations opposed to the commission of inquiry but not to the idea of justice.”

The expert asserted, so far, there was no signs that Myanmar would carry out free and fair elections, and most international observers are disappointed with the electoral process in the military-ruled nation.

“It is clear that the process remains deeply flawed,” Quintana said. “Freedom of expression, Freedom of assembly and association have been further restricted through implementation of the election laws.”

“There has been no release of prisoners of conscience,” he added. “I repeat conditions of genuine elections are limited under the current circumstances.”

Quintana insisted that Myanmar needed to send a strong signal to the international community about its commitment to hold genuine elections. “Unconditional release of prisoners of conscience would be such a signal,” he said.

In his three visits to Myanmar, the human rights expert has not been allowed to see democracy icon Aung San Su Kyi by the military regime in the country.

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Bangkok Post – Burmese cross in thousands for election
Migrant workers seek passport to cast ballot
Published: 29/10/2010 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: News

CHIANG RAI : Thousands of Burmese migrant workers in Thailand are returning to their country to obtain national verification so they can receive a passport ahead of Burma’s national elections on Nov7.

More than 2,000 Burmese workers are queuing at the national verification office in Tachilek opposite Mae Sai district every day. But Burmese authorities could only process a maximum of 300 applicants each day, a source at the Mae Sai border checkpoint said yesterday.

Before only about 200 Burmese workers were crossing the border each day to complete their national verification process and obtain a passport, the source said.

“These migrant workers are eager to get their passports so they can travel more freely back to cast a ballot and then return to work in Thailand,” he said.

The large numbers at Tachilek are in part because of the closure of the border checkpoint at Myawaddy, opposite Tak’s Mae Sot district. Workers who had intended to cross the border there had switched to Mae Sai, the source said.

Chan, a Burmese worker who was standing in a line waiting for her turn to complete her national verification process and be given a passport, said many of her fellow migrant workers in Thailand were enthusiastic about going to the polls.

She said she believed there were more than a million Burmese workers living in Thailand and many of them wanted to cast their votes in advance.

The Burmese junta has not yet said clearly if Burmese workers living abroad are eligible to vote in the coming elections.

Mae Sai has also become a hub for international journalists assigned to cover the Burmese elections.Boontham Thipprasong, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Mae Sai district, said local business operators believed Burma would close its borders from Nov 6 to 8 while the elections were held.

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TerraDaily – Japan offers two-billion-dollar environment rescue package
by Staff Writers
Nagoya, Japan (AFP) Oct 27, 2010

Japan announced Wednesday a two-billion-dollar environment rescue package for developing countries in a bid to kick-start tense UN talks aimed at securing a pact on saving biodiversity.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Japan wanted to help lead the world in protecting the world’s animals and plants from extinction, and offered the money to poor nations over the next three years.

“Our generation must resist the ongoing extinction and bequeath to future generations our rich and abundant earth,” Kan said as he unveiled his government’s aid package that would be spent on protecting ecosystems.

Kan was addressing delegates from more than 190 countries who are in the central Japanese city of Nagoya trying to broker a treaty aimed at ending the world’s rapid loss of biodiversity.

The 12-day event is due to end on Friday with the United Nations aiming for a 10-year plan that would include commitments for protecting forests, cutting pollution and other ways to save ecosystems.

UN chiefs at the conference have highlighted scientists’ warnings that humans’ destruction of ecosystems are causing the world’s plant and animal species to vanish at up to 1,000 times the natural rate.

But while delegates in Nagoya have said they are aware of the threats, the talks have become bogged down in the kinds of disputes between rich and poor nations that have plagued the UN’s climate change negotiations.

One point of tension has been an insistence from developing countries that rich nations commit to helping them financially to save their rainforests, waterways, wetlands and other ecosystems.

In this regard, Japan’s announcement improved the mood in Nagoya — even though there were few details about where the money would be spent and the break-up between direct aid and loans.

Brazil, which has been a leading voice for developing countries, cautiously welcomed Japan’s offer as it waited for more information on whether the money would be on top of previous commitments.

“That’s good news,” Brazilian Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira told AFP via email.

“For us, in Brazil, I think it’s very important to highlight that new funds, additional money, are absolutely important for the next phase (of negotiations).”

Environmental group Greenpeace, which is part of the large civil society movement also involved in the talks, praised Japan for its leadership.

“This is a great start, that Japan is providing concrete figures to protect life on Earth. We hope it provides an example for other countries to do the same,” Greenpeace Japan’s ocean campaigner, Wakao Hanaoka, told AFP.

If all goes to plan, a deal on Friday would see countries commit to 20 targets on saving biodiversity.

These would include pledges on protecting fisheries and forests, cutting pollution levels and restoring degraded ecosystems.

But another major dispute aside from the financing issue still threatens to derail the event.

Brazil has said many developing countries will not agree on a broad pact unless there is also a binding legal protocol on “fairly and equitably” sharing genetic resources.

Developing countries argue rich countries and companies have been allowed for too long to take genetic resources, such as wild plants, and use them to make medicines, cosmetics and other products for huge profits.

Under the proposed “Access and Benefit Sharing Protocol”, companies would have to pay people in developing countries for taking the indigenous products and the knowledge of how to use them.

Delegates from opposing sides said a deal on ABS was possible in Nagoya, but that deep divides on the issue remained and time was running out to clinch a deal.

Meanwhile, green groups expressed concern that some developing countries were trying to water down elements of the strategic plan so much that they would be nearly meaningless.

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Radio Australia – Burma minorities protest over vote blacklist
Last Updated: 18 hours 12 minutes ago

More than 1,000 villagers from Burma’s ethnic minority regions mobilised this week in opposition to the country’s ruling regime.

They called for a boycott of November 7 elections, the first national vote in 20 years.

The gathering in Mon state is believed to be the first public demonstration in Burma in the lead-up to the election.

The demonstrators from the Shan, Karen and Mon minority groups say they have loss their right to vote.

This follows an announcement last month by the Election Commission that voting would not take place in 3,314 villages, effectively disenfranchising 1.5 million ethnic voters.

The demonstrators assembled and dispersed quickly as a tactic to avoid detention.

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The Irrawaddy – Govt Media Crank Up Propaganda
By SAW YAN NAING – Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ten days ahead of a general election, one of Burma’s main state-run newspapers has cranked up its propaganda in an editorial criticizing the opposition parties, armed ethnic groups, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and Burmese media in exile.

On Oct. 28, in a lengthy Pidgin English article in The New Light of Myanmar, columnist Dagonthar ran attacks on everything from the student demonstrations of 1988 to expatriate Burmese to the now defunct Communist Party of Burma.

Dagonthar also accused opposition parties, NGOs and The Irrawaddy of profiteering from the coffers of the international community.

“For them [the expatriate Burmese opposition], the most important thing is not the success of democracy revolution, but prolonging democracy revolution. Only then, can they keep on leading a life of luxury,” the columnist said.

The article also alleged that those who seek to boycott the election do not want change.

“No wonder they refuse to accept the concept that democracy transformation should go step by step through the upcoming election and are resolutely opposing the election and the change,” the article said. “In fact, the expatriates prefer to the rule of military government so that they can tell hard-luck stories about Myanmar people and deceive money from the donors.”

Observers interpret the editorial as intimating that democratic reform in Burma is a threat to the lifestyles of Burmese expatriates because they will no longer be able to request funding from international donors.

The Burmese military junta regularly utilizes the country’s media to blame the pro-democracy opposition and armed ethnic groups for bomb blasts in the country, and routinely refers to the groups as “terrorists.” The regime also routinely blames media organizations such as the British Broadcasting Cooperation (BBC), Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) for causing violence, generating public outrage and sowing hatred among Burmese people.

In Thursdays’ article, the newspaper also highlighted The Irrawaddy, saying that the Danish government is “fed up” with the magazine and has stopped funding US $1 million annually to the Chiang Mai-based news group.

Dagonthar estimated that of the $1 million that the Danish government handed over to The Irrawaddy, only $15,000 per year was used to publish the magazine, leaving $985,000 as “miscellaneous expenses of boss U Aung Zaw and other 62 staff of the magazine.”

Win Thu, the office manager of The Irrawaddy, denied that any Irrawaddy staff member received any unauthorized payments, and said the magazine received only $70,000 annually from Denmark, beginning in 2008.

“All the Burmese state-run media’s accusations are groundless—as always,” he said.

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The Irrawaddy – Than Shwe May Not be President
By WAI MOE Thursday, October 28, 2010

Burma’s junta head Snr-Gen Than Shwe and his deputy Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye may not be in Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) post-election list of presidential nominees since they are not members of the party, said USDP leader Htay Oo.

Htay Oo’s remark came when answering a question on the USDP’s presidential nominees at a press conference at a USDP party office in Rangoon on Wednesday, according journalists in Rangoon. Htay Oo is general secretary of the USDP and minister of Agriculture and Irrigation.

Although rumors in Rangoon suggest the junta head may be the next president if he retires as commander in chief of the armed forces, the state media has repeatedly highlighted Than Shwe position as the commander in chief of defense services in what observers say is intentional signalling that he is keeping the top military position.

As the commander in chief, Than Shwe is the most powerful person in military-ruled Burma and he is also the minister of defence in the government under Prime Minister Thein Sein.

“The senior general cares about the nation and always thinks about its progress, so he formed the organization [the USDP] to take care of development,” Htay Oo said, “But he is not with the USDP.”

Although there are 10 days to go before the election, the USDP seems confident of victory as Htay Oo said the party has between 16 and 18 million members out of 29 million voters.

In anticipation of winning at the polls, the USDP has listed its presidential nominees for the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (Burma) and prepared for transfer of power, said Htay Oo, but he declined to name the presidential candidates as it is not “the right time.”

Regarding the decision to boycott the election by pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy’s (NLD), Htay Oo said, “whether it is right or wrong depends on the outcome.”

Despite the plans to hold the election on Nov.7, the junta still holds about 2200 political detainees and faces potential armed conflict with the ethnic armed groups on Burma’s frontiers as well as targeted sanctions from the United States and the European Union.

“The sanctions definitely impact on the people but do not affect the government,” Htay Oo said, adding that sanctions created no obstacle to trade between the military regime and neighboring countries.

“We do not need to ask for sanctions to be lifted as we plan to make them ineffective,” he said.

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The Irrawaddy – The Malaise Below the Surface
By MARTIN KOVAN Thursday, October 28, 2010

RANGOON — In downtown Rangoon, less than two weeks before the Nov. 7 election, life appears much as usual. People lounge and relax in roadside tea-shops, children run and play among vehicles and the detritus of roadworks, monks – and nuns, in miraculously clean, pink tunics with tan shoulder robes and brown umbrellas – make alms rounds through the streets, barefoot and impassive amidst noise, rain or traffic. Rangoon is a colourful, if shambolic city, alive with a human warmth and vibrancy that rarely betrays the  discontent beneath its vital surface.

Yet cracks do show, as much in the difficulties of daily life as in the spoken admissions of people from all walks of life. While the shaky infrastructure of much of Rangoon is little different from that of a city in neighboring India (Patna or Kolkata for example), other less obvious constraints of communication and movement belie a much deeper malaise conditioning much of life.

My guesthouse proprietor is required to report to the local police registry office with details of all his current guests, sometimes more than once a day, recording any knowledge of their movements and activities. This is ironic, considering many areas of the country are off-limits to travelers, and even non-Burmese ethnic nationalities alike, so that both visitors and locals are unable to travel as freely as the expectation that they do so might allow.

Perhaps the best evidence of unreasonable control, however, comes in  the area of online communications, where even mainstream e-mail sites require overseas server providers in order to allow for a few snatched moments of web access, usually at the cost of a lengthy process of proxy transfer.

Sometimes there is no access at all, and then the extent of Burma’s isolation from the world beyond comes clear, with a chill of recognition: much could happen here that could go unknown by both local and international news providers, or only until it might be too late.

In my short time here, without eliciting any discussion of the election, I’ve been taken into confidence by many people eking out a living—tea-shop owners, guesthouse workers, booksellers, taxi-drivers and beggars. Many have made it clear that they hold little faith in the coming election. Others, especially younger educated people, try to preserve some optimism that a reasonably democratic procedure might begin to institute the reforms they expect is their due in voting at all.

Few have made it clear to me that a boycott of the election is the only course to follow, and while emphasizing their fidelity to Aung San Suu Kyi and the now heavily compromised former National League for Democracy, they profess her political power to be at an all-time minimum, and her career effectively closed. Yet they say this with a wistfulness that makes it very clear that while her political currency appears to have passed its peak, their personal faith in and love for who she is and what she means to their national identity is as undying as ever.

Younger people I have spoken to look to the 88 Generation Students movement as most likely to hold some kind of legitimacy in the democratic cause, at least one with some political negotiating power, even as they are certain the Union Solidarity and Development Party will win the election outright and that current Prime Minister Thein Sein will become the new leader of Burma under its auspices.

It is hard to disagree with them, and everything seems to be confirming it by the day. Yet even this morning an apparent show of protest by some monks near the Shwedagon Pagoda, and the arrest of two of them, challenges that foregone conclusion. In this election anything could happen, and the coming days possibly hold more radical surprises in store.

Trading English books with an elderly bookseller, speaking through his two remaining betel-stained teeth, nothing was mentioned of the election until I was about to take leave of him. Then he cannily grinned and said, “And you don’t know anything about the election, do you?” I quickly grinned back and agreed, saying, “Nothing at all! In fact, I’ve forgotten about it! What is it?”

He slapped his knees and burst into laughter, two friends joining in, all of us laughing in a happy defiance. A nearby police official looked askance at us, but we kept on laughing. There was a feeling that no matter who might be observing, the local people preserve an integrity and conviction intact precisely through such defiance, however passing.

The irony also was that the book I’d exchanged with the old bookseller was a collection of short stories by Yevgeny Zamyatin,  a great Russian writer repeatedly persecuted by Stalin’s Soviet regime, his life often threatened, until he finally died in exile in Paris, obscure and largely unknown to the Russian reading public of the Stalinist and post-Stalinist periods.

Yet his writing lives on, read now in English in Rangoon.

The old man shook my hand and thanked me and said he looked forward to reading the stories, brilliant parables of freedom set in unlikely places and fragile human solidarities, just as it is in Burma today. The best of the human spirit survives and triumphs here in ways that Snr-Gen Than Shwe and his minions seem deadened to, so great already is their loss.

On the way one night to the Shwedagon Pagoda to see the full-moon festival there, my taxi driver (slightly drunk) told me almost as soon as I was inside how much he loved “Daw Suu Kyi.” By the time we arrived at the glittering golden stupa there were tears in his eyes, and he was reluctant to accept my payment for the ride. Such is the warmth and faith of many of the Burmese people I have met here in only a short time.

The overriding conclusion that can’t be avoided is that such a people deserve much more than the disrespect and humiliation the ruling regime mete out to them again and again in so many forms of curtailment of basic rights of expression, assembly, freedom of association and self-determination.

Life appears here to be business as usual, but deep beneath the surface a pride and strength of spirit speaks out loud, saying that the subjugation of fundamental freedom can only go so far, beyond which point everything will be risked to secure its eventual triumph.

Perhaps this is the one thing the ruling regime has failed to master against the people, the one thing it will finally be unable to withstand. Whatever the outcome on Nov. 7, the quest for genuine freedom isn’t over, and the election might only be its prelude.

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Mandalay mosquito-coil fire leaves 34 families homeless
Thursday, 28 October 2010 21:20
Salai Han Thar San

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Fire that ignited when a mosquito repellent coil tipped over has razed 22 houses this afternoon in the Aungmyaytharsan Township of Burma’s second largest city, Mandalay, fire officials say.

The fire spread from a house in Amelyoe Ward after starting at around 3:45 p.m., razing the other homes and displacing 120 people. Firemen brought it under control at about 4:15 p.m.

“The fire was started by a mosquito-repellent coil in the bedroom of the house. At that time, there were only children inside … the value of damage is still being calculated,” the Mandalay Central Fire Department’s duty chief said.

An Aungmyaytharsan resident said: “The house where the blaze started is near us … Blue-collar workers live in that ward.”

Victims of the fire, 34 families, had sought refuge at Shweantaw Pagoda community hall at the junction of 22nd Road and 86th-87th Road.

Mizzima contacted the Aungmyaytharsan Police Station but the duty officer refused to disclose any details.

A massive blaze in March 2008 gutted Mandalay’s Yadanarpon Market, leaving at least two dead and causing property damage valued at US$50 million.

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Junta poised to hold power until parliaments convened
Friday, 29 October 2010 03:18
Phanida

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Burma’s ruling military junta will hold on to power until the country’s various parliaments are convened after the election, the Agriculture and Irrigation Minister Htay Oo told local and foreign press on Wednesday.

The Union Solidarity and Development Party secretary was speaking to reporters at the party’s first press conference ahead of nationwide parliamentary elections on November 7, held at its headquarters in Bahan Township, Rangoon.

The controversial 2008 constitution declared that the first regular session of a term of the People’s Parliament should be held within 90 days after the commencement of the general election; which means the junta may rule until February 4, 2011.

Htay Oo denied the rumour that an interim government would be formed within 90 days after the election. The minister also told journalists that the USDP already had prospective presidential candidates.

Also present, Rangoon Mayor Aung Thein Lin was reluctant to answer questions about USDP electoral campaigning in which it had allegedly misused municipal funds to resurface roads, according to an editor who attended the gathering.

As many as 1,158 USDP candidates would contest in the forthcoming election. In accord with electoral laws, 54 candidates were to be MPs as there was only a single candidate each competing in those constituencies, and 52 of them are from USDP, according to Htay Oo.

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DVB News – India cautions on ‘adverse’ UN probe
By DAN WITHERS
Published: 28 October 2010

India has questioned the value of holding a UN Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into war crimes in Burma, an Indian diplomat recently told a General Assembly committee.

The probe, now supported by more than a dozen nations, may be “counter productive” and “end up adversely affecting the very people it is supposed to help,” Acquino Vimal said, according to the Press Trust of India.

Vimal pointed out that UN chief Ban Ki-Moon’s recent report on Burma made no mention of the CoI, which was first proposed in March by UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Tomás Ojea Quintana. “We believe that the focus of efforts of the international community should be on ensuring constructive engagement with Myanmar [Burma],” Vimal said.

In comments which bore a striking resemblance to Chinese policy on Burma, Vimal also stressed the importance of “peace and stability” on India’s borders. Burma’s controversial 7 November elections would be a “step forward” in the country’s “national reconciliation process and democratic transition,” he added.

The diplomat’s comments come days after Nobel-prize winning Indian economist Amartya Sen made a statement bemoaning his country’s policies towards the Burmese regime. In July, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh welcomed junta leader Senior General Than Shwe on a state visit to India.

“It breaks my heart to see the prime minister of my democratic country – and one of the most humane and sympathetic political leaders in the world – engage in welcoming the butchers from Burma and to be photographed in a state of cordial proximity,” AFP quoted Sen as saying. India had forgotten its ideals and was emulating China because of fears over its communist rival’s growing influence in the region, he said.

While India used to offer unqualified support to Burma’s democracy movement, over the past two decades it has changed tack. The country is now investing heavily in Burma, particularly in the energy and extraction industries, and maintains a strategic partnership with the country in a bid to counter growing Chinese influence in the region.

Momentum behind the UN commission of inquiry, which would investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity by the junta and Burma’s ethnic rebel armies, appears to be flagging. Although 13 countries, led by the United States, back the probe, the Washington Post recently revealed that China is engaged in a diplomatic campaign to scupper the investigation.

Professor Ian Holliday, a specialist in China-Burma relations at the University of Hong Kong, recently told DVB that the Chinese Communist Party may also fear investigations into its own human rights record. “The core concern is not to allow anybody to stick their nose into China,” he said.

China and Burma maintain an uneasy alliance, with the larger country enjoying access to Burma’s resources and backing the junta on the international stage. China is also believed to see the military as the best bet for ensuring stability on its borders.

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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.