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BURMA RELATED NEWS – MARCH 24, 2011
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AP – 6.8-magnitude quake strikes NE Myanmar; no tsunami
BBC News – North-east Burma hit by two 7.0 magnitude earthquakes
Aliran Online – End Myanmar military rule; bring back genuine ‘Union Day’
Bangkok Post – Quake strikes Burma, shakes Bangkok buildings
PTI – 55 Myanmarese fishermen rescued by Coast Guard
People’s Daily Online – Parliamentary houses of Myanmar form representatives vetting committees
IRINnews.org – MYANMAR: Over 30 percent of TB cases going undetected
Times of Assam – NSCN current position – Will ULFA take same road through China and Myanmar
Bloomberg – The Lady Will See You in Myanmar as Suu Kyi Shows Land Besieged
The Irrawaddy – Thailand Accused of Creating Instability in Burma
The Irrawaddy – Canadian Arrested in Myawaddy
The Irrawaddy – Attacks on Libya Fuel Burmese Satellite Dish Sales
The Irrawaddy – EDITORIAL: Libya Conflict Reopens R2P Debate on Burma
Mizzima News – Scud missiles, not nuclear weapons, are threat from Burma, expert says
Mizzima News – Up to 4,000 fishermen from Pyapon missing in storms
Mizzima News – Filmmakers hope to develop Karen film into full-length movie
DVB News – Shan rebel ‘supporters’ uprooted
DVB News – Norway ups Burma oil investments
DVBNews – Opinion: Shouldering China’s toxic burden
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6.8-magnitude quake strikes NE Myanmar; no tsunami
51 mins ago

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) – A powerful earthquake struck northeastern Myanmar on Thursday night, shaking buildings as far away as Bangkok. No tsunami was generated.

The quake struck near Myanmar’s borders with Thailand and Laos, about 70 miles (110 kilometers) from Chiang Rai. The northern Thai city sustained a little damage, according to Thai television.

There were no immediate reports of damage from the Myanmar side, a remote area where communications, even in the best of times, are difficult. The country’s military-controlled government also tightly controls information.

The 6.8-magnitude quake was just six miles (10 kilometers) deep, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. At that strength and depth, it said 600,000 people could feel shaking anywhere from strong to violent. It added that since buildings in the area are considered vulnerable, moderate to very heavy damage could be expected.

Buildings swayed in Bangkok, about 480 miles (770 kilometers) south of the epicenter.

Max Jones, an Australian resident of the Thai capital, was in his 27th-floor apartment when his building started shaking so hard he had to grab the walls to keep from falling.

“It was bloody scary, I can tell you,” he said. Jones said he could see people running in the streets.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said the quake was located too far inland to create a destructive wave.

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24 March 2011 Last updated at 11:36 ET
BBC News – North-east Burma hit by two 7.0 magnitude earthquakes

North-east Burma has been rocked by two 7.0 magnitude earthquakes, close to the borders with Laos and Thailand, the US Geological Survey has reported.

They struck seconds apart at 1355 GMT and were centred about 70 miles (110 km) from the northern Thai city of Chiang Rai, the agency said.

The first quake was shallow, at a depth of 6.2 miles (10km), while the second was much deeper at 142.5 miles (230km).

Tremors could be felt as far away as Bangkok and Hanoi.

The area where the quakes struck is sparsely populated and remote.

The BBC’s Rachel Harvey in Bangkok said it could be a while before the extent of the damage is known.

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Aliran Online – End Myanmar military rule; bring back genuine ‘Union Day’
[Translate] By admin, on 24 March 2011

Members of Chin Democracy and Human Rights Network and other activists have called for an end to military rule in Burma and for the restoration of the Panglong agreement so that the country can adopt a federal democratic system.

We are a group of ethnic people from Myanmar and a collection of other human rights activists. Today, we are holding a pro-democracy and ethnic freedom rights demonstration in front of the Myanmar Embassy. This is in commemoration of Union Day, which started in Panglong Town, Shan State, Myanmar on 12 February 1947.

‘Union Day’ is the birthday of the Myanmar nation. On this day, 23 representatives from four territories, which comprise the Shan state, the Kachin hill, the Chin hill and mainland Burma, signed an agreement in Panglong to form the Union of Myanmar. To honor this historical agreement, Myanmar people celebrate Union Day across the nation on 12 February every year. This day is the most important day in modern Myanmar’s history.

These four territories are also representative of almost the entire territory of the current Myanmar region as drawn in the country’s map. Not only did the Panglong agreement pave the way for the formation of the Myanmar nation, it also enabled the country to gain independence from the British emperor.

Significantly, the Panglong agreement guaranteed the people freedom in both the ethnic minority territories and mainland Burma and included such things as equality and sharing together in the country’s prosperity. The core issue of the Panglong agreement was to setup “a federal system of government full autonomy in internal administration”.

But the country’s successive rulers, Myanmar military governments, have never implemented the Panglong agreement and have not respected the Union Day since 1962, when the country fell under military government rule completely. From that time, the military abolished the Panglong agreement and Union Day has never been honoured in its original spirit since then. Instead the military government wrongly represents Union Day and misleads the people from the real essence of its goal.

In recent years, the military government deliberately drafted a constitution to keep military control over the country, which is against the principle of the Panglong agreement, such as a 25 per cent limit on seats for the military in parliament. Several ethnic groups, KIO, NMSP, UWSA and SSA-N, requested that the draft constitution be a genuine one ahead of its creation. The military government, however, flatly rejected this proposal.

Furthermore, Myanmar’s military government also rejected the United Nations proposal for a tripartite dialogue.

It is clear that the Myanmar military’s attitude has been shown to be deceitful with regards to its country’s people and before the international community.

Therefore, we, the All Ethnic Democracy and Human Rights Network, demand that the Myanmar military junta:

stop military rule and do not interfere with any civilian rule.

restore and bring back the Panglong agreement and build the country according to a federal democratic system.
immediately cease its human rights violations and religious repression.

immediately relieve the people from political and economic repression.

Furthermore, we ask that the Korean people and the international community show staunch support for the cause of democracy and call for the end of ethnic repression in Burma.

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Bangkok Post – Quake strikes Burma, shakes Bangkok buildings
Published: 24/03/2011 at 10:11 PM
Online news: Local News

An earthquake of 6.7magnitude on the Richter scale jolted the northeastern region of Burma, about 56 kilometres from Chiang Rai’s Mae Sai district, the Meteorological Department reported on Thursday.

The epicenter of the earthquake was located 20.87 degrees latitude and 99.91 degrees longitude.

The department said people living in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Nan provinces also felt the quake.

People living in buildings in Bangkok’s Asoke, Sathorn and Sukhumvit districts posted on Twitter that they felt the buildings sway.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center says it was located too far inland to generate a destructive wave.

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55 Myanmarese fishermen rescued by Coast Guard
PTI – Thu, Mar 24, 2011 3:16 PM IST

Port Blair, Mar 24 (PTI) Fifty-five Myanmarese fishermen have been rescued by Coast Guard personnel from high sea near Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

The fishermen were rescued in a coordinated search operation for two days by Coast Guard personnel and a naval dornier aircraft, a coast guard release said today.

The fishermen were spotted adrift in Andaman Sea on 145 bamboo rafts.

The release said that Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) of Yangon alerted their Indian counterparts in Port Blair on Saturday about the fishermen who were washed away on bamboo rafts from Myanmar coast due to bad weather.

Coast guard kept a constant vigil since then and spotted the fishermen in Andaman Sea, officials said.

They were without food or water and were provided medical assistance and given food on rescue, coast guard officials said.

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People’s Daily Online – Parliamentary houses of Myanmar form representatives vetting committees
15:53, March 24, 2011

Both parliamentary house of representatives (Lower House) and parliamentary house of nationalities (Upper House) of Myanmar have formed representatives vetting committees respectively to scrutinize representatives as from the second meeting of the first respective parliaments, according to the respective parliaments’ announcements made public Thursday.

The lower house’s representatives vetting committee was formed with 14 members with U Maung Oo, current home minister, as chairman, while the upper house’s representatives vetting committee was set up with 8 members with U Aung Tun as chairman.

Meanwhile, according to Thursday’s Union Election Commission, 19 more parliamentary candidates from some region or state constituencies and their election agents were disqualified, bringing the total of such candidates to 112 so far since March 15.

The commission said these candidates and their election agents failed to submit election expenses during the 60-day period after they were announced as parliament representatives-elect through Nov. 7, 2010 general election as found by the election tribunal.

The commission added that they are disallowed to contest in the election as parliamentary candidates in the existing parliament term and the next term.

In the 2010 general election, 1,154 candidates out of over 3, 000 representing political parties in contesting were elected as parliamentary representatives at three levels, in which 325 as representatives to the house of representatives, 168 as representatives to the house of nationalities and 661 as representatives to the region or state parliament.

A total of 37 political parties including 82 independents took part in the parliamentary election held across the country’s seven regions and seven ethnic states.

Myanmar started its first three-chamber parliament sessions simultaneously on Jan. 31 this year and the sessions of the house of representatives (lower house) and house of nationalities (upper house) ended in the new capital of Nay Pyi Taw Wednesday evening, while the sessions of region or state parliament remain ongoing separately in 14 respective regions or states since then.

The union parliament is made up of the house of representatives and the house of nationalities, each level of which involves elected ones in the November 2010 general election and 25-percent military-nominated ones.

In Myanmar’s presidential election on Feb. 4 this year, Prime Minister U Thein Sein won the presidency, while U Tin Aung Myint Oo and Dr. Sai Mauk Kham were elected as the vice presidents. Source: Xinhua

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IRINnews.org – MYANMAR: Over 30 percent of TB cases going undetected

YANGON, 24 March 2011 (IRIN) – According to the most recent national tuberculosis (TB) prevalence survey in Myanmar conducted from 2009-2010 and still undergoing analysis, preliminary data show a large proportion of TB cases are going undetected.

In 2010, the World Health Organization (WHO) – working from 2009 estimates not yet confirmed by the latest survey data – estimated 300,000 TB cases out of a total population of 53 million, but that only 64 percent of new cases were being detected.

The latest survey by the government’s national TB programme of 51,367 people in 70 geographical areas confirmed the 2009 estimates.

Of the estimated 597 in every 100,000 people nationwide who have TB (316,410 out of 53 million), most are male living in urban areas. The number infected in urban areas is twice as high as in rural areas, as has been the case for years.

“Of the found TB cases in the [2009-2010] national prevalence survey, the majority had not sought health care for TB,” said Eva Nathanson, the TB technical officer in Myanmar’s WHO office.

It may be that patients are ignoring symptoms of their illness, are unaware about TB, live far from health care facilities, are not having their TB detected by health workers, or are being misdiagnosed, she added.

Of those who do start treatment, many abandon it before completion, making them candidates for multi-drug resistant TB, said a government clinic doctor in Mgway Division in central Myanmar who preferred anonymity.

“Many patients do not understand their TB could be resistant if they do not take drugs regularly. It is hard to convince them why they must take their drugs on a regular basis… Some patients stop taking their drugs when their health is getting better. They just come back [to treatment] when their health is bad again.”

MDR-TB

The 2009-2010 survey did not examine multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) – when patients no longer respond to the first line of TB treatment because they are infected with a drug-resistant form of the disease, or they did not follow through with the entire course of treatment, thereby rendering treatment ineffective.

Based on earlier surveys, heath experts estimated there were 9,000 people with this more difficult-to-treat form of TB in Myanmar in 2008.

The next nationwide drug resistance survey is expected to be conducted in 2011.

TB results in an estimated 1.7 million deaths each year, with the global number of new cases in 2009 (more than nine million, with 55 percent occurring in Asia) higher than at any other time in history, according to WHO.

In a study published in the British medical journal, the Lancet, for World TB Day on 24 March, the authors concluded: “Increasing rates of drug-resistant TB in eastern Europe, Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa now threaten to undermine the gains made by worldwide tuberculosis control programmes.”

Classified by WHO as a high-burden TB country, Myanmar has one of the world’s highest TB prevalence rates.

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Times of Assam – NSCN current position – Will ULFA take same road through China and Myanmar
Kohima, March 24, 2011

Addressing the 32nd Republic Day celebration at Council Headquarters of the NSCN in Hebron, the General Secretary of NSCN, T Muivah stated that there has been significant change in the approach of the Government of India to the Naga political issue and expressed confidence that an honorable solution can be soon expected. He also stated that the Government of India, including all the three Prime Ministers of the country with whom they have held talks so far, has given recognition to the unique political identity of the Nagas. However he maintained that no solution to the Nagas can be complete without integration of the different Naga dominant areas and also without reconciliation of the different Naga rebel groups.

On the other hand, NSCN chairman Isak Chishi Swu, who has come for the proposed reconciliation summit in Nagaland, declared that their outfit is committed for reconciliation based on the historical and political rights of the Nagas. He appealed to all Nagas to reconcile and unite to stand by their rights and determine their own destiny.

The NSCN General Secretary claiming about a change in the attitude of Indian Government can be looked upon as a hope for the state of Assam as well, where the ULFA, NDFB and several outfits have initiated lateral talks with the Government. Especially with the ULFA leaders already having met the Prime Minister and the home minister to initiate a process of dialogue to bring a honorable solution for Assam’s long demands, the development of the Naga peace process is critical for its closest neighbors in Assam. NSCN, who started off their armed struggle with help of China and has long maintained training bases in Myanmar, has come a lot closer to India over the last thirteen years,- so much so that NSCN leadership now openly declares that they are Not against the constitution of India, when they had started their struggle against this very constitution once. In case of ULFA, the Paresh Baruah fraction still enjoys support and shelter of China and Myanmar and there seems to be no chance as of now if this fraction would come for negotiations.

Looking back to the history of the Naga struggle, when the Naga National Council had signed the Shillong accord, the first peace treaty between the Nagas and Indian Government way back in 11 November, 1975, only three Naga leaders had opposed it. They were Th Muivah, Isak Chishi Swu and SS Khaplang, whom the Indian Government did not consider as important at that point of time. But what followed is only a bloodier history, with these three leaders making the birth of a new outfit, the NSCN (which later divided into two fractions), which became the most powerful armed outfir of the region and forced the same Indian Government to have a long process of Lateral dialogue to solve the Naga issues.

On today’s date, the same seems to be happening with Assam. The ULFA pro-talk fraction seems determined for a solution where as Paresh Baruah threatens to re-group the outfit with China’s help and continue to fight. With a history set to repeat, the Indian Government can at least try to put diplomacy as a mean to stop China and Myanmar from helping Paresh Baruah fraction to re-group. But this looks like a really difficult talks, with no improvement taking place in Indo-China relationship of late.

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Bloomberg – The Lady Will See You in Myanmar as Suu Kyi Shows Land Besieged
By William Mellor – Mar 23, 2011 2:00 PM PT
Bloomberg Markets Magazine

The voice on the end of a crackling phone line is soft and conspiratorial: “So you have arrived in Rangoon? Come at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday. The Lady will see you then.”

In Myanmar, a Southeast Asian nation ruled for 49 years by a military junta, “The Lady” is code for Aung San Suu Kyi, the Oxford University-educated Nobel Peace Prize laureate who spent 15 of the past 21 years imprisoned in her decaying lakeside home. Though she was released in November from her most recent seven-year spell of house arrest, arranging an interview with the leader of the banned National League for Democracy party still requires subterfuge, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its May issue.

A visit to Myanmar, a Texas-sized former British colony of 55 million people that was previously known as Burma, can be a cloak-and-dagger affair. Reporters arriving in the dilapidated main city, Rangoon, which the regime renamed Yangon, must play hide-and-seek with dictator General Than Shwe’s secret police.

Meeting Suu Kyi, 65, for the first time in her ramshackle party office nevertheless evokes a sense of deja vu. Slender in a blue longyi, the traditional Burmese sarong, and sporting fresh, yellow roses in her jet-black hair, she remains instantly recognizable as the defiant, sylphlike figure whose first challenge to the generals in 1988 drew comparisons with Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama.

In 1990, Suu Kyi’s NLD won a landslide election victory, capturing 392 of 485 seats in the national assembly. Yet the military blocked her from taking power by nullifying the poll, a move that drew the condemnation of Western nations and, along with subsequent human rights abuses, triggered economic sanctions.

Economic Debate

Now, Suu Kyi is back at the center of international attention as Western governments and investors debate whether to help pull Myanmar out of the economic wilderness in the wake of her release.

Suu Kyi, who still refers to her country as Burma, says that while Myanmar may one day be open for business, investment should also benefit its people.

“I worry about the fact that so many businesses look on Burma as virgin land to be exploited at will,” she says. “Even hardened businessmen can see this is a situation where they might be able to do some good rather than just squeeze out a lot of profit.”

Suu Kyi says now it’s premature to lift sanctions because there’s no evidence yet that the generals are moving toward democracy and respect for human rights. Although Suu Kyi has been freed, some 2,200 political prisoners languish in jail.

‘Sanctions Have Failed’

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group disagrees.

“Isolation and sanctions have failed to promote reform and must end,” the ICG, which advises governments on resolving conflict, said in a March 7 statement.

Myanmar, strategically sandwiched between the world’s two emerging giants, China and India, is a treasure trove of natural resources.

These include a proven 20 trillion cubic feet (570 billion cubic meters) of natural gas, mines that are potentially the world’s greatest source of high-quality rubies and jadeite jade (popular with Chinese consumers) and waters so abundant that fishermen joke that their country is the only place where prawns die of old age.

“The opportunities in Myanmar are enormous,” says billionaire U.S. fund manager Jim Rogers, chairman of Singapore- based Rogers Holdings. “I am doing my homework on how to invest there.”

Black Market Rates

It’s clear that Myanmar is in need of investment.

Its per capita gross domestic product is only $582, making its citizens poorer than those of Haiti, Bangladesh and Burkina Faso, according to the International Monetary Fund. The currency, the kyat, is so worthless that it requires 850 to buy one U.S. dollar on the black market compared with the official exchange rate of 6 to $1. Only 1 person in 100 owns a mobile phone and 1 person in 500 uses the Internet, according to the Geneva-based International Telecommunication Union.

Myanmar’s pariah status means that companies such as Lonely Planet have been criticized in the past by Burmese democracy activists for issuing guidebooks to the country.

Today, this land of gold-spired pagodas and crumbling British colonial buildings draws about 300,000 visitors annually — compared with neighboring Thailand’s 15.8 million.
Davos Message

Many Western businesses would seek access to Myanmar only if the U.S., the European Union and other Western countries lift sanctions. The final word may rest with one woman.

“If Suu Kyi calls for an end to sanctions, it could very well happen,” says Thant Myint-U, a former head of policy planning in the United Nations Department of Political Affairs. “Over Western policy, she has an amount of influence.”

In January, Suu Kyi, who can’t leave Myanmar for fear of not being allowed to return, sent a recorded message to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

In it, she called on Myanmar’s generals to initiate legal reforms to attract foreign direct investment, adding, “I look forward to the day when there will be a political and social environment that is favorable to a wide range of investments in Burma.”

In a separate statement in February, her party called for negotiations with the U.S., EU, Canada and Australia to determine under what circumstances sanctions might be modified. Those governments have yet to officially respond.

Billionaire George Soros, chairman of Soros Fund Management LLC, says the desire for democracy in Myanmar means the junta could go the way of deposed rulers in Tunisia and Egypt.

“Recent events in the Middle East and North Africa demonstrate that change can come at any time and any place,” Soros says. “If I were General Than Shwe, I would think about starting a real dialogue with the opposition.”

Investment Rush

Ending Myanmar’s outsider status could lead to an investment rush, says Luc de Waegh, managing partner of Singapore-based West Indochina, a consulting firm that runs trips into the country for foreign businessmen. Consumer product companies would find a market for everything from toothpaste to motorcycles; mining services firms could supply items such as helicopters and rubber boots, says de Waegh, who declines to name the companies who have sent executives to Myanmar.

On her release, Suu Kyi told cheering crowds that she bore no grudges toward, and would be prepared to talk to, the generals.

Leadership Question

Since then, she says, they haven’t responded. Complicating the issue is the decision by Than Shwe, 78, to step further into the shadows following elections in November in which the junta- backed Union Solidarity and Development Party claimed to have won 76 percent of the seats after the NLD boycotted the poll.

The government is now officially headed by a president, former General Thein Sein, 66, although above him sits a state supreme council headed by Than Shwe.

“We don’t know who’s at the helm,” Suu Kyi says.

While Western nations and investors debate the ethics of investing in Myanmar, Asian companies are profiting from the lack of competition for assets. Chinese, Indian, Korean, Thai, Singaporean and Malaysian companies are drilling for oil and gas, building ports and pipelines and trading jade, rubies, sapphires and timber.

Even some Western companies continue to do business there. French energy company Total SA (FP) and its minority partner, San Ramon, California-based Chevron Corp. (CVX), are extracting Myanmar’s natural gas at an offshore field in the Andaman Sea called Yadana.

Grandfather Clause

Total and Chevron aren’t in breach of U.S. and European sanctions because they were there before Myanmar was declared an international outcast by the West. Under a
grandfather clause, they’re barred from increasing their investments in Myanmar, according to Gareth Johnstone, a Singapore-based Chevron spokesman.

Both companies say their operations in Myanmar create jobs and improve living conditions for ordinary citizens. China National Petroleum Corp., South Korea’s Daewoo International Corp. (047050) and GAIL India Ltd. are developing another gas field to the north.

Already, natural gas from Myanmar provides 20 percent of neighboring Thailand’s energy needs. By 2013, it will be flowing through pipelines to Kunming, capital of Yunnan, the southwestern Chinese province that adjoins Myanmar. Beijing is also building two ports at which oil from the Middle East can be offloaded and then piped overland to China,
reducing the security risks attached to shipping it through the narrow Malacca Strait, a choke point between Indonesia on one side and Malaysia and Singapore on the other that
could be easily blocked by potential enemies in the event of war or even disrupted by terrorists.

Thai Investment

Thailand’s biggest construction company, Bangkok-based Italian-Thai Development Pcl (ITD), is putting together a group that wants to spend $80 billion during the next 10 years to transform 250 square kilometers (96.5 square miles) of Myanmar’s southern coast near Dawei into a port and petrochemical hub.

“The consequence of this foreign investment will change the Myanmar landscape,” says Somchet Thinaphong, the engineer in charge of the project.

For the moment, Soros supports targeted sanctions and says existing Asian investments can perpetuate abuses.

“The cash flow from oil and gas continues to be used to oppress rather than benefit the people,” says Soros, founder of the philanthropic Burma Project, which supports democratic change in Myanmar.

Struggle for Freedom

Of more than 60 military coups that took place in the world from 1962 to 1974, only two regimes installed then remain in power today: Myanmar and Libya, according to Bertil Lintner, author of Outrage: Burma’s Struggle for Democracy (Review Publishing, 1989).

Suu Kyi is watching events in Egypt and Tunisia, where absolute rulers were ousted, and in Libya, where Muammar Qaddafi was fighting to hold on to power in the face of an insurgency and the subsequent UN-backed no-fly zone over his country.

“It confirms what I have always believed: that ultimately people do not like to be ruled by despots and autocrats,” she says.

Could it happen in Myanmar? “It’s always possible,” she says. “In five years’ time, I don’t know which regime will be in place or what kind of government, but the scene will not be the same. This is an age of change.”

Suu Kyi says that change won’t be easy for Myanmar. The daughter of Aung San, a resistance hero who fought British and Japanese occupation, she says she has a harder job than her father, who was assassinated in 1947.

Home for All

“Internal struggles and civil strife are much worse than a war with any external enemy,” she says. “The Japanese and the British had a country to go back to. But I want this country to be a home for everyone, including the military.”

Dislodging Myanmar’s military could be a much bigger challenge than anything seen in the Middle East. In 1988 and 2007, Burma’s leaders fired on their own people when students and Buddhist monks led street protests. They have also fended off the impact of Western sanctions, fought ethnic secessionists and succeeded in keeping Suu Kyi out of power.

“This little group of village-born soldiers has run circles around everyone,” says Thant Myint-U, whose grandfather, U Thant, was a former UN secretary-general and opponent of the regime.

Restlessness continues to exist among a population that either lives without electricity or suffers daily power outages in a country that exports oil and gas. Car owners can wait in line for five hours to buy fuel.

Inflation Woes

There’s no stock market, meaning the closest Myanmar residents can get to betting on equities is an underground lottery based on the daily closing price of the Stock Exchange of Thailand.

Ordinary citizens say inflation makes their lives miserable.

“A year ago, a bag of rice cost me 1,200 kyats,” says U Tun, 76, a retired university professor. “Now, it’s 1,600 kyats. Myanmar is a rich nation, but the people are poor.”

Inflation is currently running at a rate of 30 to 50 percent a year, according to Sean Turnell, an economics professor at Macquarie University in Sydney.

The only global indicators in which Myanmar scores highly are narcotics production (No. 2 opium producer in the world, according to the U.S. government, after Afghanistan) and corruption (joint No. 2 with Afghanistan in Transparency International’s latest annual index).

Once Rich

It wasn’t ever thus. Under British rule, it was the richest country in Southeast Asia, according to Turnell, author of Fiery Dragons: Banks, Moneylenders and Microfinance in Burma (NIAS Press, 2009). In 1942, the British were driven out by Japanese forces helped by Burmese fighters led by Suu Kyi’s father, Aung San.

Soon, however, Aung San and his comrades became disillusioned with the Japanese and joined forces with the British, who recaptured Rangoon in 1945. In 1947, Aung San negotiated self-rule with the British and won a subsequent election. He never lived to lead the country to full independence. In July 1947, at the age of 32, he was assassinated on the orders of a political rival, U Saw. His daughter was 2 years old at the time.

For most of the next 14 years, Burma was governed by a democratically elected government of the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League, the party formerly led by Aung San, before the military coup of 1962 that followed a period of political turmoil.

Oxford Education

By then, Suu Kyi had moved to India, where her mother had been appointed Burma’s ambassador by the democratic government. She moved to England to study philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford, where she met her future husband, Michael Aris, and had two sons.

One March evening in Oxford in 1988, when the couple were reading after putting the children to bed, Suu Kyi, about to begin work on a doctorate in Burmese literature, was told her mother was seriously ill in Rangoon.

“She put the phone down and at once started to pack,” Aris later wrote. “I had a premonition that our lives would change forever.”

Suu Kyi arrived back in Burma to find student protests in full swing. Soon, she became one of the opposition leaders, co- founding the NLD. The protests were suppressed by soldiers, who massacred some 3,000 people.

House Arrest

The following year, Suu Kyi was put under house arrest for the first time. In 1990, the generals agreed to call elections and then refused to recognize the NLD’s victory. Suu Kyi spent much of the next two decades under house arrest away from her sons, becoming a global icon of nonviolent opposition. In 1999, Suu Kyi’s husband, whom she hadn’t been allowed to see for four years, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The generals refused him a visa to make a final visit to Suu Kyi before he died that same year.

Suu Kyi survived a 2003 assassination attempt when, during a period of freedom, her motorcade was ambushed near the town of Depayin by what Western governments claimed was a junta-backed gang. Some 70 of her supporters were killed, and she escaped only because her driver sped away from the mob.

Suu Kyi says she doesn’t fear for her safety.

“We don’t go around inviting trouble, but on the other hand, we don’t avoid what we ought to do because it might possibly be dangerous,” she says.

Soros isn’t so sure about Suu Kyi’s security.

“She’s always in danger of re-arrest or worse,” he says.

New Capital

In 2005, the generals overnight stripped the nation’s largest city of its role as capital, having in total secrecy carved a grandiose new one out of jungle 400 kilometers (250 miles) to the north. The new capital, Naypyidaw, boasts a parliament building as big as the U.S. Capitol. The nearby presidential palace is perhaps twice the size of the White House. A zoo features a climate-controlled penguin house that ensures that the inmates can bask in a cold environment even though they have been transplanted to the tropics.

While the generals and their public servants decamped to Naypyidaw, Yangon began to experience a commercial property boom as crony businessmen profited from a government sell-off of some state assets. While the crumbling downtown skyline began sprouting high-rise office towers, in the northern suburb of Golden Valley, new McMansions were selling for as much as $3 million, according to Thant Myint-U, who says the new rich include genuine entrepreneurs as well as cronies.

Wealth Gap

“We Burmese say there are only two kinds of people in Burma — the ones who have nothing to eat and the ones who have nowhere to put their riches,” Suu Kyi says.

Ultimately, investors may simply be deterred by the immaturity of the market and horror stories of foreign investors falling foul of local partners. And there’s also competition from other, better markets, says investor Marc Faber, who oversees $300 million at Hong Kong-based Marc Faber Ltd.

“So many markets are opening up: Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Central Asian republics,” says Faber, who publishes the Gloom, Boom & Doom Report. “Based on my experience with Vietnam, you are not missing much for the first 10 years.”

Back at Suu Kyi’s offices, “The Lady” is about to leave for her next appointment. She knows there may be years of struggle ahead to restore democracy.

Is the continuing sacrifice worth it?

“You mustn’t use the word sacrifice,” she says. “I find it very embarrassing. It is a choice I made.”

Soon, Western investors will face their own choice: whether to put their money into a fragile yet promising economy or to stand back and watch rivals with fewer qualms about political oppression exploit the country’s riches — while at the same time propping up the world’s longest-running military dictatorship.

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The Irrawaddy – Thailand Accused of Creating Instability in Burma
By HTET AUNG Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Burma’s information minister has accused Thailand of not being a friendly neighbor by promoting instability in Karen State, according to the state-run New Light of Myanmar.

“If the neighbor [Thailand] would stand as a friendly nation, [the] problems of Kayin [Karen] State would soon be solved,” said Information Minister Kyaw San at a parliamentary session in Naypyidaw.

“There are base camps which they call refugee camps in the territory of the neighbor near Myanmar [Burma] border. Those camps are founded with contribution[s] of some certain super powers, INGOs and the neighbor. Insurgents use those camps as their base and launch guerrilla attacks on the army, which is the reason that [exchanges of fire] are still occurring in Kayin State.”

The remark was reportedly made in response to a question by Saw Thein Aung, a leader of Phalon Sawaw Democratic Party, who is an elected MP in the Lower House representing Hlaingbwe constituency.

Saw Thain Aung asked the government about its plan to restore peace and stability in Karen State and the role of Karen nationals in the process. He also said that the people in Karen State want a cease-fire and peace, and are “sympathetic toward war refugees.”

Although the state media didn’t mention Thailand by name, the information minister blamed the “neighbor” as a source of prolonging instability in Karen State. Thailand has given sanctuary along the border to refugees fleeing from Karen State, although the Burmese regime does not recognize the shelters as refugee camps.

The junta has previously made this accusation, but on this occasion it went a step further in attacking the international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) based in Thailand that provide humanitarian assistance to the refugee camps along the Thai-Burmese border.

The junta’s attack on the INGOs coincides with the decision of the European Union (EU) to reduce aid to the Burmese refugees in Thailand, which came soon after the EU Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response Kristalina Georgieva led an EU delegation to Mae La refugee camp, the biggest camp with about 50,000 refugees.

According to camp sources, the EU commissioner told the camp management body that the EU will reduce their aid in the coming years, but will provide assistance to promote livelihoods for the refugees with the goal of allowing them to stand on their own feet by getting access to paid jobs inside and outside the camps.

Thailand currently hosts about 150,000 Burmese refugees in nine refugee camps along its western border opposite Shan, Karenni and Karen states and Tenasserim Division.

Currently, there are 78,682 refugees from Karen State living in three refugee camps—Mae La, Nu Po and Umpiem Mai, located in Tak Province—according to 2011 data issued by the Thailand Burma Border Consortium, an umbrella organization comprised of INGOs that provides food, materials for building shelters, and other assistance to the refugees.

For more than a quarter of a century, Thailand has hosted and received Burmese refugees due to continuing armed conflict between various ethnic armed groups and the Burmese army.

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The Irrawaddy – Canadian Arrested in Myawaddy
Thursday, March 24, 2011

Burmese security forces arrested a Canadian man on Thursday for illegally entering Burma near the Thai-Burmese border town of Myawaddy, according to official sources.

Although they did not reveal the name of the detainee, the sources said the man was a 62-year-old Canadian national who was arrested shortly after he crossed the border near War Lay Myaing in Myawaddy Township.

During interrogation at Myawaddy police station, the man, who was carrying only his passport and a camera, said that he accidentally entered the country after misreading a map.

Burmese officials in the town said the man would likely be charged under Section 13/1 of the Immigration Act.

On Nov. 7, a Japanese journalist was arrested after entering Myawaddy to cover Burma’s elections. He was released after three days detention.

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The Irrawaddy – Attacks on Libya Fuel Burmese Satellite Dish Sales
By LINN THANT Thursday, March 24, 2011

The popular uprisings in the Arab world and air strikes by international forces on Libya have spurred an increase in the sale of satellite dishes and receivers in Rangoon and other major cities in Burma, according to sources.

“Sales went up significantly during the first few days after the air strikes on Libya began,” a satellite dish dealer in Rangoon told The Irrawaddy. “The increase was even greater than during the World Cup last year.”

A dealer in Mandalay confirmed that satellite dish sales have increased in his area as well.

“There are more people who want to install 8-ft dishes with a receiver worth over 30,000 kyat [US $34]. Those who can afford it prefer channels from the United Broadcasting Corporation, a cable television company in Thailand, which comes with clearer signals, but the receiver will cost 70,000 kyat [$80],” said the Mandalay dealer.

Most of the satellite dish users in Burma are reportedly from wealthy families. Most students and political activists, on the other hand, cannot afford such expensive equipment and therefore go to teashops or nearby houses that have dishes installed to watch up-to-date news on television.

“The Burmese people are paying attention to the continuing protests taking place in the world these days. They can follow and see them through dishes so their interest has increased, especially regarding the air strikes against Libya by coalition forces. They also admire the international response to Gaddafi,” said a Rangoon-based political observer.

He said people rely on foreign broadcasting services and dishes to learn about recent events in the Middle East and North African countries because domestic journals do not carry news about anti-dictatorship protests in those countries.

According to Order No. (1/93) issued by the Burmese military regime’s Ministry of Communications, Posts and Telegraphs (MCPT) on September 29, 1993, whoever wishes to get a satellite receiver must apply for a license at the nearest township post office.

The MCPT, however, announced in early 2008 that it would increase the license fees for satellite television receivers to up to one million kyat [US $1,136].

In addition, the registration for hundreds of thousands of satellite receivers in Burma are currently expired as the MCPT stopped renewing licenses following condemnation by exiled and foreign media groups of its 2008 announcement of the fee increase.

“The regime doesn’t like its citizens to watch foreign channels much, that’s why it excessively increased receiver license fees to up to one million kyat. Those who can afford it, however, hurriedly bought dishes over the past few days because they can freely watch very interesting news on television,” said a businessman in Rangoon.

He said paid-services for foreign channels are available in town but many of them are censored.

“We can buy television services from Sky Net, Forever Group and Family Entertainment, and we don’t need to pay tax for them. But foreign news channels such as CNN, the BBC and Al Jazeera are censored so people don’t like those services,” said a Rangoon resident.

According to the regime’s Communications Act, a person who illegally possesses a satellite receiver can be given a maximum sentence of seven years in prison and the receiver can be confiscated as state-owned property.

In 2008, authorities raided satellite dish stores and restricted owners from selling satellite-related apparatus to those who do not have a legal permit to purchase.

A woman in Rangoon who follows foreign news told The Irrawaddy that the current sales of dishes are carried out in quiet ways.

“The installation of a satellite dish without a license is against the law. But we can see and watch the world through those dishes. If your news agency reports about it, our dishes will be confiscated,” she said.

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The Irrawaddy – EDITORIAL: Libya Conflict Reopens R2P Debate on Burma
Thursday, March 24, 2011

Images of fighter jets and Tomahawk missiles streaking across the skies of Libya have quickly become popular viewing in military-ruled Burma.

Despite the fact that Naypyidaw heavily censors news about the recent uprisings in Libya and the Middle East, many Burmese have access to satellite TV and shortwave radio.

Others go online to learn about the rise and fall of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

Many Burmese believe that international intervention is necessary to stop the atrocities in Libya, and they hail UN Security Council Resolution 1973. Then they take a step back and ask: “Why Libya and not Burma?”

But although the UN and the US-led international community reserve the right to wage war on Islamic countries, and to buy and sell out dictators at will, the realpolitik of the situation is that they will never forcefully intervene in Burma.

In May 2008, France and the US sent warships with cargoes of humanitarian aid close to Burmese waters soon after Cyclone Nargis had wrought death and destruction in lower Burma. They offered to deliver emergency supplies to victims and survivors of the natural disaster in which nearly 140,000 people were killed and some 2 million left homeless. The Burmese regime rejected the offer. A Mexican standoff ensued and many in Burma anticipated that an intervention—or an invasion—was in the pipeline. But the West blinked first and the ships withdrew.

The international community had been faced with the option of overriding the junta’s decision and landing on Burmese soil. Many in the UN argued that a legitimate case of intervention under the Responsibility to Protect framework, or “R2P,” was justified. The regime’s refusal to allow aid to its citizens was argued to be a “crime against humanity” that fell under the loosely worded (and never employed) R2P mandate.

In the end, no foreign forces entered Burma’s territorial waters. Some Burmese were bitterly disappointed, others were relieved.

But the blunt truth is that the majority of Burmese, of all classes and creeds, would embrace any form of humanitarian intervention.

Unfortunately, Burma is a messy affair; it is ravaged with geopolitical problems, not to mention one of the world’s most endless civil conflicts. Foreign intervention alone will not solve its problems.

In early 2010, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights to Burma Tomás Ojea Quintana took an unprecedented move in a report to the UN’s Human Rights Commission in calling for a Commission of Inquiry into possible crimes against humanity and war crimes in Burma.

More than 2,000 political prisoners still languish in Burma’s gulags while hundreds of thousands of Burmese refugees and internally displaced persons cannot return to their homes for fear.

Many in Burma still believe that only violence will succeed in removing the junta from power. The optimism some felt toward the general election in November has dissipated as it becomes glaringly obvious that the regime’s idea of a “disciplined democracy” is no more than a brand new parliament building filled with old junta loyalists.

Located between China and India, Burma is unlikely to ever attract any armed intervention from the Western alliance. In 2008, China, the junta’s closest ally, immediately rejected international calls for humanitarian intervention in the Irrawaddy delta following the cyclone disaster.

In the event of a future catastrophe—whether it be a natural disaster or a crime against humanity— the roles that regional powers play are pivotal.

Burma is a member of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (Asean). Just as the Arab League supported the UN resolution that led to “No Fly Zone”—in reality, a bombing campaign against government forces in Libya—it stands to reason that regional support is essential before the UN can tailor a resolution that will pave the way for military intervention.

For an R2P framework to be considered in Burma, it is paramount that regional powers Asean and China are on board. Without Eastern support for intervention, Burma’s ruthless military leaders will continue to thumb their noses at the West for as long as they live.

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Mizzima News – Scud missiles, not nuclear weapons, are threat from Burma, expert says
Thursday, 24 March 2011 20:04
Jim Andrews

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Burma’s reported program to manufacture Scud-type ballistic missiles could tilt the balance of power in Southeast Asia and provoke a regional arms race, warns author and Burma expert Bertil Lintner.

Lintner, who has written authoritative books on Burma and North Korea, said: ‘According to exclusive information I have received, one of two major Burmese munitions factories located near the small town of Minhla, on the west bank of the Irrawaddy River, south of Minbu in Magway Division, is involved in the production of sophisticated Scud-type missiles’.

Lintner, who has just published a paper on his findings on the Hong Kong-based media website, Asia Pacific Media Services, told Mizzima that North Korean experts are reportedly assisting Burma’s military technicians in the top-secret project.

Scud missiles, a series of tactical ballistic missiles, were first developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. North Korea added Scud missiles to its arsenal more than 20 years ago, buying a series of the tactical weapons from Egypt. Later it produced its own, naming them Hwasong, and exported them to Iran and Syria. The current Hwasong-6 has a range of 700 kms with a payload of 800 kg, making it a highly effective medium-range weapon in regional conflicts.

Lintner warned: ‘A Scud-armed Burma would place its capabilities a significant notch above its Southeast Asian neighbors, which do not possess such long-range missiles, [and] could spark a regional arms race, prompting neighbouring countries such as Thailand to develop or procure their own missile arsenal’.

Lintner said reports of Burma’s missile program should be taken even more seriously than assertions that Naypyidaw is aiming to become a nuclear power, which he described as a ‘pipedream, unlikely to materialize within the foreseeable future, or ever…Burma’s program to develop Scud-type missiles should be taken more seriously’.

Lintner said reports of the missile program first surfaced in 2010 in a WikiLeaks disclosure of the text of a cable sent to Washington by the US Embassy in Rangoon on August 27, 2004.

One of the US Embassy’s sources claimed that North Korean workers were assembling surface-to-air missiles at ‘a military site in Magway Division’ where a ‘concrete-reinforced underground facility’ was also under construction. The source told the embassy that ‘he had seen a large barge carrying a reinforced steel bar of a diameter that suggested a project larger than a factory’.

The construction of the armaments factory partially underground made its purpose difficult to identify from the air, said Lintner—adding that his sources report the two factories are ‘now churning out more advanced weapons, including Scud-type missiles, than the country has to date’.

Lintner said it is ‘now clear that the site referred to in the embassy cable is Ka Pa Sa 10, situated near Konegyi village in Minhla Township. Construction of the site began in 1993, but has only recently been completed.

‘The site reportedly covers 6,000 acres (2,428 hectares) and, according to a source who used to work at the facility, the aim is to produce surface-to-air, surface-to-surface and air-to-air missiles.

‘The North Koreans working at the site reportedly first entered Burma discreetly by road from China. They were met at the border and then brought to Minhla by officers from Burma’s Defense Production Directorate, known as ka ka htone, according to the source’.

Between 600 and 900 army technicians and other military personnel are currently based at Ka Pa Sa 10, said Lintner. ‘Initially Russian and Chinese technicians also took part in the facility’s construction, but they appear to have since left and been replaced with North Korean experts’.

The second Minhla Township armaments factory is spread over 100,000 acres near Malun village, Lintner said, adding his source told him that ‘the somewhat older factory employs 900 engineers and other military personnel and produces 60mm, 81mm and 120mm mortars and 105mm artillery pieces’.

The source told Lintner that the complex also includes a huge firing range where heavy weapons, including artillery and rockets, are tested: ‘According to the source, Singapore, as a small island country which does not have enough space for such testing, paid for the construction of the firing range. Weapons are also brought from Singapore and tested at the site.’

Lintner said that so far ‘there are no reports to suggest that Minhla’s two Ka Pa Sa facilities are involved in Burma’s nascent, clandestine and highly debatable nuclear program. Nuclear research is reportedly carried out at Myaing to the north of Pakokku, which is also in Magwe (or Magway) Division but far from the Minhla facilities.

Still, North Korean involvement in Ka Pa Sa 2 may be cause for international concern—even for Burma’s traditional military partner, China. Following the massive shipments in the 1990s and early 2000s, it appears that Chinese deliveries of military equipment have waned significantly’, Lintner said.

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Up to 4,000 fishermen from Pyapon missing in storms
Thursday, 24 March 2011 18:06
Myo Thein

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Around 4,000 fishermen from the Pyapon area may have lost their lives in vicious storms that struck Irrawaddy Division last week, according to Win Kyaing, the general secretary of the Myanmar Fisheries Federation.

Win Kyaing said in a meeting held by the Myanmar Fisheries Federation on Tuesday that the 4,000 fishermen represent about 2,000 fishing rafts that were lost in storms from March 14 to 17, according to a reporter who attended the meeting.

The number of dead or missing is difficult to determine, said authorities.

‘His estimation of the missing is based on the total number of rafts. There are about 1,500 registered rafts and 500 unregistered rafts [in the area]. A raft can carry around three people each. That’s why he estimated that more than 4,000 people are missing’, the reporter said. The rafts are manned by fisherman who go out daily to catch fish and work their nets.

A spokesperson from the Fishery Department in Pyapon District told Mizzima that almost all the fishing rafts in Pyapon District were lost or damaged, but only about 50 percent of the fishing nets were damaged.

‘We can’t tell the exact number of casualties because we still don’t have enough confirmed information. Some victims may have returned to their homes by their own means’, the spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, state-run newspapers said on Wednesday that 17 fishing vessels and about 800 rafts were destroyed in storms from March 14 to March 17, and a total of 3,638 victims had been rescued. The newspapers did not cite a figure for the number of fishermen who lost their lives in the storms or are missing.

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Filmmakers hope to develop Karen film into full-length movie
Thursday, 24 March 2011 15:31
Jim Andrews

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – An 11-year-old Shan girl with no previous acting experience is being applauded at film festivals around the world for her portrayal of a Karen refugee fleeing the brutality of the Burmese army.

Ronnachai Mai Whittio—Mai for short—was chosen for the role in ‘Crossing Salween’ through ‘street casting’, where movie producers look for natural talent among non-professionals, as seen in the casting of slum children in the 2008 Hollywood hit, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’.

‘Mai was a natural’, Irish film producer Gary Moore told Mizzima on a recent visit to Chiang Mai. ‘She gives an astonishing performance’. Movie enthusiasts and critics at several international film festivals agree.

Mai lives with her parents in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, where most of the casting for the film, ‘Crossing Salween’, took place.

Now a 20-minute ‘pilot’ based on a short story written by Moore, the film caught the attention of the Irish Film Board. He and his company, Dublin-based Red Rage Films, hope to develop the film into a full-length feature—and, judging by the positive reception it has received at several major film festivals, they should have little difficulty realizing that aim, assuming they raise the necessary funding.

Moore became concerned about the plight of Karen villagers, caught up since 1949 in the world’s longest civil war, when he was asked to mount a photographic exhibition on Burmese refugees. He visited the Thai-Burmese border region, and on his return to Ireland wrote a short story, titled ‘Ko Reh’, the name of its central character, a 9-year-old Karen girl who flees into the jungle when Burmese government forces burn down her village and slaughter the inhabitants. With the aid of a mysterious hunter, she sets out on an arduous trek to the safety of Thailand.

On an impulse, Moore and scriptwriter Brian O’Malley submitted a film treatment of the story to the Irish Film Board. ‘Brian wrote a screenplay in four hours, just making the deadline’, said Moore. ‘It came top out of 183 submissions’.

The short film was released coincidently on November 13, 2010, the day when Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released from her latest term of house arrest in Rangoon.

Since then, ‘Crossing Salween’ has been shown in festivals in Berlin, Dublin, Cork, Sydney and the US city of Fort Wayne, winning accolades at each screening. Further screenings are planned at other film festivals over the next 18 months, while Moore and his team look for the 1.5 million Euros or US$ 2.1 million to make a full-length feature.

Humanity, not politics, is the main thrust of both the pilot and planned full-length feature film.

‘This isn’t a political film or an anthropological study’, said Moore. ‘It’s a human story that also throws light on the reality of Karen life and, by proxy, the lives of the Burmese in general. We hope it raises awareness of the situation there in the wider world’.

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DVB News – Shan rebel ‘supporters’ uprooted
By NANG MYA NADI
Published: 24 March 2011

Inhabitants of six villages in southern Shan state have been ordered to relocate as the Burmese army looks to isolate Shan rebels operating in the region.

More than 190 families in the Kunhing township villages have been told to leave by the end of March and will be forced to move closer to the road connecting Kunhing to the town of Nansang.

One Kunhing resident said that move was aimed at “curbing support for Shan rebels”, likely referring to the Shan State Army–South (SSA–South), which holds sway over a large part of the southern Shan region.

The order came hot on the heels of fighting between Burmese troops and the SSA–South on 10 and 11 March in the Kunhing district. Reports surfaced at the time that villagers were forcibly abducted to serve as porters during a fight in nearby Mongshu township, while some were told to show troops the location of nearby Shan army bases.

The relocation is part of the junta’s so-called ‘four cuts’ strategy which looks to sever lines of support and communication for Burma’s various ethnic armed groups. The country’s military generals ordered troops to re-launch the maligned tactic in order to rout defiant opposition armies like the SSA–South who have refused its demands to become border security forces.

In the country’s remote border regions, swathes of which are under the control of ethnic armies, the Burmese junta considers the line between civilian and insurgent heavily blurred and thus regularly targets rural populations it deems guilty of supporting the groups.

The ‘four cuts’ has also seen a renaissance in Burma’s west, where troops are fighting the Arakan Liberation Army, but it has struggled to apply a strategy designed for lowland warfare in the mountainous border regions.

Fighting also broke out further north in Shan state after Burmese troops on 13 March launched an attack on bases belonging to the Shan State Army-North (SSA-North).

The series of assaults came as the junta supposedly gave the group an ultimatum to withdraw from its bases by 20 March and fully surrender by 1 April.

The location of the bases, in Namlao, is seen as a key strategic target, both in the fight against the SSA-North but also against the larger and more powerful United Wa State Army (UWSA) – the Burmese junta fears the UWSA will coordinate with SSA–South to aid the SSA–North.

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DVB News – Norway ups Burma oil investments
By FRANCIS WADE
Published: 24 March 2011

Figures released last week by the Norwegian government show that investments in oil and gas companies operating in Burma stand at close to $US5 billion, despite heavy opposition from rights groups.

The new sum marks an increase of around $US300 million on last year’s figures. The state-owned investment body, the Norwegian Pension Fund, holds shares in 15 energy companies in Burma, a position that the campaign group Norwegian Burma Committee this week criticised as “double morale”.

The Fund, which was founded on the country’s North Sea oil wealth, was the focus of a damming report in December last year by EarthRights International (ERI), who accused it of “contributing to grave unethical actions in Burma” through its investments.

The revelation coincides with reports of several extra-judicial executions last month close to pipelines operated by two overseas companies, the US-based Chevron and French oil giant, Total. Both are targets of investment by the Fund, which has shares of more than $US2 billion in Total and $US0.9 billon in Chevron.

It has also doubled its stake in the controversial Swiss-American drilling firm Transocean, which is being investigated by the US for its work with a consortium of Burmese companies that includes a firm owned by junta crony Steven Law, who is a target of US sanctions.

ERI, which has been monitoring the impact of the Yadana and Yetagun gas pipelines in Burma’s southern Tenasserim division, released a statement yesterday in which it claimed an ethnic Karen man had been killed by Burmese troops close to the pipelines. Both Total and Chevron, who operate the Yadana pipeline in partnership with Thailand’s state-owned PTTE and the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), are known to use Burmese army units as security for their operations.

Eight of the 15 companies, including Transocean, have seen increased investment from the Fund, while six have seen a reduction and one remains the same.

Its shares in Korea’s Hyundai Heavy Industries have soared from $US11.5 million to $US173 million, while its holdings in PetroChina now top $US100 million, information obtained by ERI shows.

What these companies have in common is their involvement in the controversial Shwe dual pipeline project, which will transport Burmese gas and Middle Eastern and African oil across the breadth of the country to southern China. The campaigning group Shwe Gas Movement (SGM) claims the project has dramatically increased military presence along the pipeline route and caused the forcible relocation of hundreds of civilians.

Matthew Smith, senior consultant at ERI, said the increase in investments by the Pension Fund “is indiscriminate of the ethical considerations – that [the Fund doesn’t] determine whether or not to increase their holdings based on ethnical decisions”.

Significant chunks of the Shwe pipeline and the Yadana-Yetagun pipelines, which transport gas to Thailand, run through military zones, where incidents such as the killing of the Karen man in February are common. Smith said however that such risks are an issue “these companies have consistently tried to deny in communications with their investors and other interested parties”.

The Pension Fund in March 2007 disinvested from the Chinese company Dongfeng following evidence that it had been supplying trucks to the Burmese military.

Norway was one of the first countries to accept Burmese refugees following the 1988 uprising, and in 1991 awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

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DVBNews – Opinion: Shouldering China’s toxic burden
By FRANCIS WADE
Published: 23 March 2011

Four years ago a World Bank report landed on the desk of the Chinese health ministry containing shocking statistics on pollution-related deaths in the country, so much so that Beijing promptly engineered the removal of a third of it over fears that the findings, if they went public, could spark “social unrest”. Around 750,000 people die each year of pollution-related illnesses, the report said, many of whom fall victim to China’s distinction as the world’s leading coal consumer. The findings were smothered for years, with the final report, “Cost of Pollution in China”, resorting to abstract gauges such as the economic burden of premature deaths, rather than the cold, hard figures.

Fast forward to now and this burden has taken on a new form: China has begun to fear that the by-products of rapid industrialisation and surging growth rates are now “a serious obstacle to social and economic development”, as environmental minister Zhou Shengxian said last month, and has positioned the battle against pollution as a key priority in the government’s five-year plan. On the surface this will come as welcome news to many, with Beijing acknowledging the need to look for slower, more sustainable forms of growth, but beneath lurks a different reality.

The inconvenient truth is that China’s swelling middle class and its soaring demands for energy, rising at nine percent each year, are an impediment to Zhou’s ambitions and, further down the line, the progress of the country. If energy consumption continues to increase at current rates, by 2020 China will require twice as many dams, coal-fired power stations, nuclear plants and other power sources. Factor in rapidly depleting natural resources, and a conundrum forms for the rising superpower: can it continue with its aggressive expansion of its domestic energy industry, to the detriment of its environment and people, or does it look for alternatives?

The alternatives may not be the sustainable measures mooted by Zhou, but something more sinister: China has been increasingly out-sourcing its pollutive and ecologically destructive industries to regional neighbours, relying on their flimsy environmental regulations and suppression of public disquiet on which to lump the burden. This co-opting of resource-rich smaller states like Laos and Burma has been aggressive, and shows little sign of abating; instead, the alarm bells recently sounded by Zhou could give it a further prod as Beijing looks to shift the by-products of its growth elsewhere.

Already the China National Heavy Machinery Corporation Company (CHMC) is the main economic thrust behind Burma’s largest open-pit coal mine and coal-fired power plant in Tigyit, Shan state, that a report in January said had triggered skin infections among half of the 12,000-strong local population and caused the forcible displacement of more than 320 households; people that receive no benefits from the project, given that the energy produced from the 2000 tonnes of highly pollutive lignite mined each day is shipped to a nearby cement factory for use in dam construction. A 600 megawatt coal-fired power plant, part-operated by the China Guodian Corporation, is also under construction in Sagaing division, with the power slated to be sent to Burma’s largest copper mine in nearby Monywa, operated by Chinese weapons giant Norinco. The output from Monywa will go to feed China’s booming electronics manufacturing sector, with a statement last year on the Norinco website tellingly boasting that the deal would “enhance the influence of our country in Myanmar [Burma]”. A similar agreement will also see China’s Taiyuan Iron and Steel (Group) Company, the largest steel manufacturer in the world, mine Sagaing division for nickel.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg for the pariah, pockmarked as it is by Chinese dams, mines and pipelines, and whose dependency on its northern neighbour for capital risks further subservience to Beijing’s needs. In 2009 Burma was added to a special ‘watch list’ of resource-rich countries drawn up by Beijing’s Ministry of Land and Resources, no doubt acutely aware of the convenient combination of vast natural resource capabilities and zero environmental regulations in the military-ruled country.

It has also watched as the ruling junta spent decades lining its own pockets through sales of energy to neighbouring countries whilst the majority of its population suffers regular blackouts. Environmental experts from the Burma Rivers Network warned in January that China will take nearly half of the electricity produced by planned hydropower projects in Burma, with Thailand and India accounting for the majority of the remaining output. Around 10 percent will go to the Burmese military, largely for the construction of ventures like the Shwe dual pipeline project to transport Burmese gas and Middle Eastern oil offloaded on Burma’s western coast to China, while one percent will be used for domestic consumption. This is despite the fact that only one-fifth of the Burmese population have regular access to electricity.

This pattern is becoming increasingly common across Southeast Asia and indeed the world, with China behind more than 100 large dam projects in nearly 40 countries. Beijing’s heavy upstream damming of the Mekong River is seen as largely responsible for record low water levels last year in downstream nations, with Laotian capital Vientiane reporting major shortages and Burma, Thailand and Cambodia all suffering droughts. This did little to aid China’s projection of a brotherly relationship with its smaller siblings and threatened a public relations disaster, yet still Beijing is planning six more dams along the river, and has pumped significant capital into several projects mooted for Laos and Cambodia; overall, it is estimated that Chinese companies will be behind the development of 40 percent of hydropower projects along the Mekong, outside of China. Environmental groups in Cambodia, whose fledgling economy is dependent on the Mekong, have reacted strongly to the prospect of the 3,300 megwatt Sambor dam, which a 1994 study estimated would displace over 5,000 people (although that figure has surely risen by now) and tie another knot to the country’s drip feed.

Yet as environmentalist Steve Green, who has monitored the impact of Chinese expansion on Southeast Asia, points out, the exporting of its mega-projects sees China “simply out-competing with the Western countries that established the model of unsustainable consumerist growth in the first place”. Industrialising Britain set the trend for emerging economies as it farmed out industry to the Orient, where cheap labour and a lax regulatory system made it an attractive, and obvious, platform on which to drive its own growth. Indeed this kind of exploitative practice continues today, with a recent investigation uncovering toxic levels of water pollution in Baotou, Inner Mongolia, where the world’s largest source of rare-earth metals is being mined by Chinese companies to make magnets for, ironically, the wind turbines now ubiquitous along Britain’s ‘green’ coasts.

This quasi neo-colonialist venture being undertaken by Beijing is reflective of two things: one, that China simply won’t be able to support its population if current growth rates continue, or more ominously, that the hidden costs of growth are paradoxically spelling the end for a sizeable chunk of its population; and two, that China sees the strengthening of its presence in strategically important regional countries like Burma as crucial to its rise. The two issues overlap considerably, with China’s increasing dependence on foreign energy reserves providing a pretext for its encroachment over Southeast Asia, which brings with it the political and economic stranglehold on a region so integral to an emerging superpower. The trans-Burma Shwe pipeline is perhaps the most obvious example of where these two necessities align, providing as it does a means to avoid the Malacca Straits beneath Singapore and thus the potential for patrolling US warships to cut China’s main sea route to key oil-producing nations in the event that Beijing and Washington fall out.

But as Zhou referenced, there is a strategic importance to promoting environmental regulation, which China half acknowledged when it drew up domestic laws requiring Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) for potentially damaging projects inside the country; these however are less well defined when applied to overseas ventures, and to date nothing has been made binding. This has meant that when, for instance, logging was banned in Yunnan province in the late 1990s following heavy erosion and flooding, the sourcing shifted south to Kachin state in Burma, where the junta has long turned a blind eye to the threat faced by the world’s last natural teak forest.

With a key mantra of Chinese investors to make previously inaccessible resources accessible, China has exploited remote and politically sensitive areas, while its blanket governmental policy of not interfering in domestic affairs of other countries has, like the majority of other Asia-Pacific countries, provided one excuse for it to continue business in pariah states like Burma. The EIAs that Beijing asks of its companies are cosmetic at best, with fines capped at a maximum of only around $US25,000 if the developer ignores this, and more importantly, no demand that they withdraw from the area once the project has begun.

So with growing disquiet at home about China’s environmental crisis – 16 of 20 most polluted cities are in China, while environmental authorities receive around 630,000 letters each year seeking environmental redress – China needs to act quickly to avoid the social unrest it has forewarned. While Zhou’s fears show that public opposition has made an impact on energy policy, elsewhere in countries like Burma, citizen voices are not heard. This, combined with a void in state-directed environmental regulations, makes industrial out-sourcing an all-too convenient solution for a country and a business sector caught in such a critical dilemma.

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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.