Rights group slams Myanmar use of convict porters
Time Magazine – Why Being Forced into Military Labor Can Be a Death Sentence for Convicts in Burma
AlertNet – Myanmar military porter tells of abuses
Asian Correspondent – “Dead Men Walking” or Latest war crimes in Burma
IANS – India issued 770 visas on arrival to foreigners in June
The Globe and Mail – Ruthless clear-cutting bares Myanmar’s hills
AsiaNews.it – War, violence and refugees as the Kachin face Myanmar’s junta
Atlanta Journal-Constitution – Refugees a growing challenge
The New Kerala – MHA sanctions crore for development of border areas
The Irrawaddy – Burmese Health Officials Issue E. Coli Warning
The Irrawaddy – Wunna Maung Lwin: Military Commander to Foreign Minister
The Irrawaddy – Prisoner Denied Visit for Sending Letter
Mizzima News – Shop owners in Pyi Myanmar Department Store demand damages
Mizzima News – Travelling from one prison to another to visit relatives
Mizzima News – An opportunity missed, or an opportunity best lost?
DVB News – Children become latest victims of conflict in Kachin State
DVB News – Clash in Shan State leaves at least six dead
Rights group slams Myanmar use of convict porters
By Christophe Archambault | AFP News – 4 hours ago

Human Rights Watch on Wednesday condemned Myanmar’s “brutal” use of convicts as “human pack mules” in conflicts against ethnic rebels, calling for a UN-led inquiry into alleged war crimes.

The military was forcibly recruiting prisoners to serve on the frontlines of battle as porters, where they face abuses including torture, summary execution and use as “human shields”, the rights watchdog said.

“The convict porters are basically the human pack mules for the Burmese army. They have to lug this very heavy equipment through heavily mined areas,” Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director of HRW, told reporters in Bangkok.

Speaking at the release of a report on the abuses in eastern Myanmar, entitled “Dead Men Walking”, Pearson said she hoped such evidence of war crimes “really reinforces that there’s an urgent need” for an international inquiry.

“The brutal mistreatment of convict porters on the frontlines is just one of many ongoing war crimes,” she said.

“Others include deliberately attacking civilian villages and towns, extrajudicial killings, forced relocations, torture, rape and the use of child soldiers.”

Myanmar — where power was handed to a nominally civilian government in March after almost 50 years of military rule — has been plagued by decades of civil war with armed ethnic minority rebels since independence in 1948.

The new report was based on 58 interviews with escaped convict porters used in army operations from 2010 to 2011 in the country’s east, scene of one of the world’s longest-running civil wars.

While Myanmar’s army has a long history of using civilians as porters, so many have fled across the border to Thailand and other safe areas that the military has had to bring in the prisoners instead, Pearson explained.

The report also found the use of convict porters was “systematic practice”, with orders coming from “a high level” and inmates taken from a number of prisons across the country, added David Mathieson, HRW’s Myanmar specialist.

The United States said in late June that it was prepared to support a UN-backed human rights probe in Myanmar, after the country’s pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi called for such an investigation.

Pearson urged the international community to push harder for a UN-led commission of inquiry, saying fighting had intensified in parts of Myanmar since November’s election, despite hopes it would bring gradual improvement.

Time Magazine – Why Being Forced into Military Labor Can Be a Death Sentence for Convicts in Burma
By TIME Contributor / Mae Sot, Thailand Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Yay Zoe was not yet midway through an 18-month sentence in Miektila prison in central Burma when he found himself among some seventy inmates assembled for transfer. He assumed he was destined for one of the government’s many labor camps. Authorities, however, felt he would be more useful to them elsewhere: he was bound and trucked to the country’s eastern border, where he was forced to serve as a porter for soldiers fighting ethnic-minority forces. The backbreaking duty of carrying mortars and rice sacks all day with meager provisions of food and water was the least oppressive part of his ordeal. The 21-year-old said he was regularly beaten by soldiers and forced into veritable suicide missions. On three occasions, he was ordered at gunpoint to spearhead patrols through a minefield by prodding the ground with a bamboo stick. “Whenever I touched a landmine, I was forced to dig it out with a knife. My hands trembled because I assumed I was about to die.”

Yay Zoe, whose real name is withheld to protect his identity, also said he witnessed six fellow porters die: two were caned to death after attempting to escape; one was flung off a cliff after his deteriorating condition prevented him from hauling goods; and three met their end from landmines, either dying on the spot or receiving a gunshot to the head immediately thereafter from a soldier who figured a maimed porter was simply a burden. In March, after three months under constant threat of death, Yay Zoe seized upon a chance to escape. “There were only two options,” he recalled earlier this month in Mae Sot, a Thai town on the border with Burma. “If I stayed, I would die. Or I could take a risk and flee. I chose to flee.” (See pictures of the Burmese military.{http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,2004257,00.html})

He and nearly thirty others broke out on an evening when the soldiers commanding them fell into an alcohol-induced stupor, giving the convict porters a brief window to sprint off before they would be fired upon. When they reached a camp of the Karen National Union, one of the myriad ethnic armies the government is trying to eliminate, they negotiated safe passage by explaining their circumstances.

Yay Zoe’s independent account is much like the dozens recorded by Human Rights Watch and Karen Human Rights Group in “Dead Men Walking”, a report released today documenting the Burmese government’s pervasive and systematic use of civilian inmates as porters in frontline battle, where they are subjected to brutality and deadly encounters on a daily basis. The report is based on interviews conducted in Burma and Thailand with 58 prisoner porters who escaped since 2010. They had been serving sentences ranging from one year to more than 20 for a range of petty and serious crimes, from minor financial disputes to murder. (Yay Zoe says his sentence stemmed from an incident in which he was accused of misappropriating his girlfriend’s motorbike by the girl’s father.)

The report says the use of convict porters traces at least as far back as the early 1990s, but it focuses on a large-scale episode in January. According to the report, that month members of the army, prison authorities and police collected an estimated 1,200 inmates from prisons and labor camps across the country and shipped them to the country’s eastern borderlands to serve as porters for soldiers fighting ethnic independence fighters. The army’s more commonly targeted source of porters — ethnic minority civilians living in the combat zone — had already taken refuge in jungle hideouts or fled by the thousands to the Thai border in order to avoid abuse.

The report, which calls for an immediate inquiry by the U.N., is a pointed challenge to the contention by Burma’s rulers that the country is advancing along a “roadmap to democracy” that has delivered human rights reforms. Last year’s elections, the supposed fifth of seven steps along the roadmap, was widely characterized by analysts as a sham milestone because, though it was the first poll in more than twenty years, it was held as thousands of political prisoners remained jailed and many opposition leaders were banned from participating. The winning Union Solidarity and Development Party is comprised mostly of military officers who resigned their army posts in order to stand election and whose campaigns were underwritten by the army’s burgess and intimidating authority. “Serious abuses that amount to war crimes are [still] being committed with the involvement or knowledge of high-level civilian and military officials,” says the report. (See pictures of Burma celebrating the release of democracy fighter Aung San Suu Kyi.{http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,2032170,00.html})

“This is the case of the army needing hundreds of people who could disappear at any time,” says David Mathieson, the researcher on Burma for Human Rights Watch who co-authored the report. The report contends that the coordination required to regularly collect and ship hundreds of inmates from prisons across the country to serve the army is clear evidence the practice is institutionalized and approved by high-ranking officials in the government. “There’s someone in the [army] who calculates the number of porters needed as a ratio to the number of troops they are serving,” says Matt Finch, a researcher on Burma with the Karen Human Rights Group, which conducted many of the interviews for the report. “They are put on a list and then they are functionally dead.”

That assertion was independently verified by a 31-year-old former state army soldier who deserted in March and now lives in Mae Sot. Serving as an army clerk in the northeast, the soldier, who requested anonymity when being interviewed by TIME, says he regularly received letters in coded language indicating that his unit would receive a new consignment of convict porters. A regional army command would forward him the orders, which originated from an office in Naypyidaw, the government’s secluded and sheltered administrative seat.

He says soldiers were never given an explanation for why inmates were serving them but the rationale was easily understood. “The government didn’t want to waste soldiers but they didn’t care if they lost criminals,” he says. The former soldier’s account echoes convict porters’ testimonials in the new report: they were regularly beaten, used as human shields against landmines and enemy fire, and executed once injured. (See pictures from Burma’s democracy movement.{http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1665535,00.html})

The Burmese Defense Services, or “Tatmadaw”, is one of the largest and most notorious armies in Asia, with more than 300,000 personnel. Since the departure of Britain as colonial administrator in 1948, a range of ethnic-minority armies have battled the Tatmadaw, insisting their right to self-rule was part of independence. In the past two decades, the Tatmadaw has confined resistance groups to the borderlands, where terrain is rugged and without roads. Its counterinsurgency strategy has focused on controlling civilian populations in ethnic areas, denying armed resistance groups access to human and material resources from villages. Rights groups have documented frequent brutality by the Tatmadaw against local communities, including attacks on civilian populations, forced relocation, torture, rape and extrajudicial executions. Residents in ethnic areas are also often press-ganged to porter, even as the broader use of forced labor has declined throughout the country since the mid-1990s, when millions of Burmese were conscripted to work on major public infrastructure projects.

Since 1998, the International Labor Organization (ILO) has questioned the Burmese government about its use of convict porters, and in 2007 the Red Cross estimated thousands of convicts were forced to porter for the army each year as part of an “institutionalized and widespread practice.” The government has claimed it would review the issue but, says Steve Marshall, with the ILO’s office in Burma, “to date there is no indication the practice has been suspended.” As recently as March 2011, at the U.N.’s Human Rights Council in Geneva, the Burmese government has acknowledged that inmates are used as army porters but insisted they serve voluntarily and face no danger.

It’s an assessment that does not jibe with the observations of a 22-year-old former state soldier who lives in Mae Sot. He defected in April after his own father and uncle were killed by the Tatmadaw. “To trigger landmines before we entered a dangerous area, sometimes dogs were used,” the soldier recalled. “Other times we just used the porters.”

Myanmar military porter tells of abuses
13 Jul 2011 10:41

BANGKOK (AlertNet) – The Myanmar military’s abuses of convicts, who it has forced to serve as porters in the frontline of armed conflicts, constitute war crimes, Human Rights Watch and Karen Human Rights Group said in a report released on Wednesday.

Tun Tun Aung, a 20-year-old labourer from Myanmar’s Mandalay region, was sentenced to a year in prison for fighting with a neighbour. In December 2010, the authorities took him as part of a group of 30 prisoners from Meiktila prison.

Following is an extract from the report on his personal experiences:

“I didn’t know I was being taken as a porter. When we arrived in Karen State that’s when we knew, we were all afraid. There were about 1,000 prisoners there, but we were separated into small groups. My group went to La-pan village. We had to carry bombs [mortar or rocket-propelled grenade rounds] in a basket, 13 in each.

We would start at 7 a.m. and reach the mountain [Tatmadaw base] at 3 p.m. We were never given food, never given water. After we dropped our loads [at the camp] we walked back down, but some of the porters had to stay there. We had to dig pits for their mortars.

We had to struggle the whole time, the sit-tha [soldiers] would yell at us: ‘Quick, hurry, I will kill you! Are you fucking your mother or your sister?’ Most of the soldiers are bad. We are Burmese like them, but the sit-tha have no kindness, they are selfish. It is easy to torture people.

Some of the porters went first [walking ahead]. Others were between the sit-tha. Ten different times I saw porters step on landmines. Some died, others lost their legs or eyes. If the soldiers got injured we carried them back, but the injured porters just stayed there. Three or four times I had to carry the wounded sit-tha. Some had lost arms, a whole leg, injuries on their face and chest. We had to carry them slowly down the mountains and the soldiers would swear at us to go faster.

The soldiers told us at night that there was a lot of fighting on the mountain, and that if we were alive tomorrow night we would be lucky. We are all dead, I thought. Alive or dead, it’s the same thing here.

So 15 of us planned to escape. It was a full moon that night, so we decided to run away at 11 p.m. We were not tied up. We were outside a monastery, and when the sit-tha fell asleep we crept away. We were not far from the [Moei] river [along the Thai border], just a five-minute walk.

We walked through the river to the Thai side. We heard the sit-tha yell: ‘Don’t run! Don’t run!’ I turned around to look and was hit with the first shot. They shot at us four times I think. The bullet hit my right shoulder and broke my arm. It knocked me down onto the ground.

I first felt dizzy, everyone else just ran. My friend stayed and dragged me into a sugarcane field. We spent the night hiding there. In the morning we met a Thai man. I think he owned that field, and he called the Thai [health] officials who took me to the hospital [in Mae Sot].

I was told that if we escaped the army would send a letter to our family saying that we were killed by the enemy.

I’ve never seen my son; he was born while I was in prison. I want to see him. I also want to see my grandfather, he is very sick. I will work here in Thailand for two or three months to get money and then go back [to Burma] to my family.

I am worried I will get into trouble if I go back, but I have to go back.”

Asian Correspondent – “Dead Men Walking” or Latest war crimes in Burma
By Zin Linn Jul 13, 2011 9:42PM UTC

Human Rights Watch and the Karen Human Rights Group released a joint report – ‘Dead Men Walking: Convict Porters on the Front Lines in Eastern Burma’ – today at Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand in Bangkok. According to the report, the Burmese army’s abusive treatment of prisoners who are forced to serve as porters under dangerous front-line conditions adds up to war crimes.

The 70-page report released by HRW and KHRG details abuses against convict porters including summary executions, torture, and the use of the convicts as “human shields.” The military should stop forcibly recruiting prisoners as porters and mistreating them, and those responsible for ordering or participating in such treatment should be prosecuted, Human Rights Watch and the Karen Human Rights Group said.

Kyaw Min, One of the escaped convict-porters in January 2011narrated, “On December 20, 2010 they (prison authorities) called out people’s names one by one at Pya Prison, in Pegu Region. They ordered us to line up and said that we were going to porter. I didn’t know what ‘porter’ is. I had never heard. The police carried 25 people in a truck. They covered the truck with tarps. We couldn’t see anything outside. Sometime we couldn’t breathe very well. We had to wear prisoner uniforms and they shackled our legs in pairs.”

“Convict porters are the Burmese army’s disposable human pack-mules, lugging supplies through heavily mined battlefields,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Press-ganging prisoners into deadly front-line service raises the Burmese army’s cruelty to new levels.”

“The practice of using convicts as frontline porters is not new,” said Poe Shan, a researcher with KHRG, said during the press conference at FCCT, Bangkok. “The barbaric practice of using convict porters has been a feature of armed conflict in Burma for at least 20 years, exposing them to the hazards of armed conflict with complete disregard for their safety,” said Poe Shan.

“The army forces other civilians to work as porters as well, but since civilians often flee conflict areas, the use of prisoners continues,” he said.

According to the today press release by HRW and KHRG, the report is based on 58 interviews with escaped convict porters used in military operations in Karen State and Pegu Division from 2010 to 2011. Convict porters explained as eyewitnesses about summary executions, torture and beatings, being used as “human shields” in order to tread landmines or protect soldiers from gun-shots.  However, the convicts were denied medical attention and adequate food and shelter.

“We were carrying food up to the camp and one porter stepped on a mine and lost his leg,” one escaped porter said. “The soldiers left him, he was screaming but no one helped. When we came down the mountain he was dead. I looked up and saw bits of his clothing in the trees, and parts of his leg in a tree.”

As said by the human rights groups, ethnic armed groups have also been involved in abuses such as indiscriminate use of landmines, using civilians as forced labor, and recruitment of child soldiers. These abuses have led to growing calls for the establishment of a UN commission of inquiry into longstanding allegations of violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in Burma.

Human Rights Watch and the Karen Human Rights Group urged the 16 countries that have already voiced support for a UN-led Commission of Inquiry to include the establishment of such a commission in the upcoming UN General Assembly resolution on Burma. Sixteen countries publicly supported the establishment of the CoI on Burma are Czech Republic, Australia, the United Kingdom, Slovakia, Canada, the US, Hungary, New Zealand, the Netherlands, France, Ireland, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Belgium and Denmark.

“ASEAN and European Union governments should stop hoping for things to magically improve in Burma and instead strongly push for a UN commission of inquiry,” Pearson said. “Every day that the international community does nothing is another day that the Burmese army will press more porters into deadly service.”

In last week of June, Burma’s Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi voiced her strong support for a UN-led Commission of Inquiry in a video message recorded for a hearing of the US House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific.

“Professor Quintana has spoken of the need for a CoI into human rights violations in Burma,” Suu Kyi highlighted in her message to the congressional subcommittee. “I support his call for such a commission.”

India issued 770 visas on arrival to foreigners in June
By Indo Asian News Service | IANS – 2 hours 3 minutes ago

New Delhi, July 13 (IANS) A total of 770 visas on arrival (VoA) were issued to foreign tourists of 10 countries in June, an official statement said.

According to the statement, of the 770 visas on arrival, 205 were issued to tourists from Indonesia, 146 to those from Singapore, 133 from Philippines, 128 from New Zealand, 93 from Japan, 38 from Finland, 13 from Vietnam, nine from Myanmar, three from Luxembourg and two from Cambodia.

The VoA scheme of the government was launched in January 2010 for citizens of five countries — Finland, Japan, Luxembourg, New Zealand and Singapore.

The scheme was further extended to citizens of six more countries, namely, Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, Laos and Myanmar in January this year.

From January to June, the total number of VoA issued were 5,774, the statement said.

‘In May this year, the total number of VoA issued were 865. During the period of January-June, the maximum number of VoA were issued in the Delhi airport (3,207), followed by Mumbai (1,312), Chennai (984) and Kolkata (271),’ it added.

The Globe and Mail – Ruthless clear-cutting bares Myanmar’s hills
mark mackinnon, Kunming, China— From Wednesday’s Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, Jul. 13, 2011 1:26AM EDT

For more than two decades, the merchants in the Kunming Southwest Timber Market have conducted a brisk trade in a coveted but controversial resource: teak and other woods harvested from isolated, military-ruled Myanmar.

But these days, the merchants who warehouse their refined timber and raw logs in a muddy maze of garages on the edge of this southwestern Chinese city say they can no longer make a go of it dealing in Myanmar timber alone. Some have started shifting their focus to the relatively unscathed forests of Laos, while others have switched from forestry to mining in Myanmar. Some have already closed their shops for good.

What is happening is a tragedy foretold for years by opponents of the generals who rule the country better known as Burma. Desperate for cash, and hemmed in by international sanctions, Myanmar’s government opened up the country’s bountiful forests, and other natural resources, to companies in China, long the country’s only major trading partner.

After 20 years of almost unhindered clear-cutting, the traders and forestry experts say, only a fraction of Myanmar’s legendary forests of teak and redwood remain standing. Timber merchants in Kunming – the biggest hub anywhere for buying and selling Myanmar timber – say there will be no more Myanmar teak left to harvest in a decade, maybe less.
“It can’t last more than another 10 years, maybe just five or six years if they cut faster,” said Chen Jinian, office manager at Sen Long Timber, a company owned by his uncle that has been importing wood from Myanmar since the early 1990s.

Mr. Chen recently returned from a cross-border trip to negotiate a purchase, and said that his company has had to go deeper and deeper into the heart of Myanmar to find good-quality wood since the once-lush forests in the borderlands were now all but exhausted. In Yunnan province, on the Chinese side of the border, cutting is strictly regulated by authorities and the mountains are still topped with valuable but protected forests.

In Myanmar, Mr. Chen said, it’s a free-for-all, with the central government in Naypyidaw, local military commanders and anti-government ethnic militias that control the border areas all willing to sell the forests under their control in exchange for desperately needed cash. “When you cross the border to the Myanmar side, you can see the mountains that no longer have any trees on them,” he said. “Soon the trees will be all cut. Without the trees, there will be only mountains. So we will look into mining them.”

Mr. Chen’s bleak description is matched by other traders in the Kunming timber market, where the growing scarcity of Myanmar teak and redwood has driven up prices and hurt demand. Traders say business has fallen sharply in recent years, due in part to the global financial downturn, but also to the Chinese government’s efforts to regulate trade across the Myanmar border, which has resulted in the imposition of tariffs of as high as 100 per cent on some wood.

While Western sanctions against Myanmar – which were tightened in 2007 following the military’s violent suppression of monk-led protests that year – may have also played a role (traders say most of their buyers are in Europe and that demand from there has slackened in recent years), no one The Globe and Mail spoke to in the Kunming timber market was aware of their existence.

“In 10 more years, every type of Myanmar wood will be out of supply,” said a trader who would give only his family name, Huang. His company’s warehouse is stocked with rosewood from Laos, which appears to be rising as an alternate source of sought-after timbers, as well as from Myanmar. “Only one-fifth of the businessmen who used to work in Myanmar timber are still doing it. Eventually, we’ll all have to look for opportunities somewhere else.”

In a 2005 report entitled “The Choice for China: Ending the destruction of Burma’s frontier forests,” Global Witness, a British-based non-governmental organization, found the forests of northern Myanmar were even then on the verge of collapse. While the clear-cutting and smuggling of timber from the region has slowed since then due to efforts by both Beijing and Naypyidaw to regulate (and tax) the trade, a former Global Witness researcher who worked on the 2005 report said it would take decades of responsible management for the forests to recover.

The complete exhaustion of the resource within the decade “is a possible scenario,” said the researcher, who lives inside Myanmar and asked not to be named. “It depends on how efficient they are in cutting down what’s left and how cost-effective it is to do so.”

She said the damage done to date was immediately visible to anyone who travelled along Myanmar’s border with China. Deforested “bald mountains,” were a common sight in the region, the researcher said, and Chinese companies that had once imported timber mostly from the border areas were now importing trees from closer to the centre of the country. “It will be many years, even in the best-case scenario, before those forests are again viable.”

07/13/2011 14:30
AsiaNews.it – War, violence and refugees as the Kachin face Myanmar’s junta
A Kachin expert tells AsiaNews about the uncertainty that grips an entire people, exhausted by a long civil war. Meanwhile, the international community shows little interest in the matter

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Kachin live in uncertainty because “fighting between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and Burmese government troops continue everyday in Kachin State and northern Shan State,” said Zau Raw, coordinator for Kachin Refugee Committee (KRC) in New Delhi (India). He spoke to AsiaNews about the difficult situation facing the Kachin people at a time when the international community shows little interest in their plight.

“Burmese troops based in Pa Jau Na Hpaw, the former headquarters of the KIA, used heavy weaponry against a strategic KIA army camp in Padang Kawng on Monday. Some shells hit the Chinese side” of the border, he said. “Early in the morning of July 11, at Bum Sen post, a battle between KIA’s battalion 15 and Burmese troops lasted until midday.”

Recently, clashes between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and Burmese government troops took place on 2 and 3 July in different parts of Kachin State, this “despite efforts by both sides to negotiate a ceasefire on June 17 and 30 during meetings between KIA and Burmese government representatives.” Every day, people died on both sides.

“There are more than 15,000 refugees on the border with China. Most of them have found refuge in KIA headquarters in Laiza township where the KIA opened six refugee camps,” Zau Raw said. These camps rely on aid from the KIA and London-based Health Unlimited, but shortages have appeared.

“International aid is needed,” he warned, because the Burmese government has refused to help local NGOs reach the war zone with aid.

“Most Kachin are Christian,” he noted, “but the Churches have a hard time bringing aid to refugee camps. Burmese authorities have tried to discredit the refugees claiming they are KIA supporters or fighters; however, they are just destitute people fleeing war. Some have found a hiding place in local Buddhist monasteries or in churches.”

Zau Raw has been in India since 2006. he was born in Manje, near the city of Bhamo in Kachin State, where fighting is raging. He remembers many of the acts of violence perpetrated by Burmese soldiers against civilians “before the 1994 ceasefire between the KIA and the Burmese military.”

“Whenever Burmese soldiers showed up, all adult males would run into the jungle to avoid being conscripted as porters,” he said.

The Burmese military often use porters as human shields against the KIA. They are also denied medical care and adequate food. Many have died from malaria or malnutrition. Still, “A few have been able to escape and come home.”

“Now the civil war has come close to my home town. I have seen repeated acts of violence against Kachin civilians. I too was subjected to forced labour,” he explained.

“The entire Kachin population is the victim of uncertainty in the war zone. Anyone can be arrested or jailed without evidence for allegedly supporting the KIA”.

DeKalb County News 5:00 a.m. Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Atlanta Journal-Constitution – Refugees a growing challenge
By Ty Tagami The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

These places and their problems may seem far away, but the turmoil there and elsewhere around the globe has reached metro Atlanta schools. A growing number of refugees have come to Georgia in recent years, with most settling in and around DeKalb County. By law, they deserve an education.

Their relative numbers are small: about 3 percent of the DeKalb County School System’s student body, according to school and state records. But the growth in percentage terms is not: DeKalb counted 2,627 refugee students in June, an increase of about 150 percent from the 2006-07 school year.

The students, many reared in camps, often come with little or no schooling. Many speak no English. They pose a challenge for teachers such as Hien Tran.

On a recent afternoon, he was trying to explain algebra to 19 students from 10 countries on three continents. They were 15 to 20 years old and had failed the competency test given to Georgia eighth-graders two to seven years younger. They were preparing for a second try at the test through a summer program at DeKalb’s International Student Center.

“I would say 50 percent don’t know what is going on up here,” Tran said during a break, gesturing to the equations he had scrawled on the classroom’s computerized whiteboard. He expected one in 10 to pass the test when they retook it.

“I know that is a low number,” Tran said. “But it’s a major achievement bringing them up from the first-grade level to the eighth-grade level in a single year.”

DeKalb teaches English to the refugees — who count more than 70 native tongues, from Amharic to Uzbek — and offers them tutoring. The hardest cases — those 13 and older with six or fewer years of schooling — typically spend two years at the International Student Center’s isolated campus on North Druid Hills Road before moving into neighborhood schools. There were 250 such students this year.

Other school systems, such as those in Fulton and Gwinnett counties, also have refugees. They don’t count them like DeKalb, but federal data give a rough head count: from June 2010 through May, DeKalb got 465 refugees ages 5 to 18, said Michael Singleton, the state refugee coordinator for the Georgia Department of Human Services. Fulton got 182, compared with four in Gwinnett and none in Cobb.

“A refugee is eligible to receive any service that any Georgian would get,” Singleton said, including public schooling.

Each school system handles that responsibility in its own way.

In Fulton, the students enroll at their neighborhood schools, where specialists give them extra help. Gwinnett also has no systemwide education center like DeKalb’s.

Patty Heitmuller, the principal of Gwinnett’s Radloff Middle School in unincorporated Duluth, said she had a couple of refugees from Africa this year. One spoke a little French and could communicate through an interpreter. The other spoke only an obscure tribal language.

Teachers must get creative, drawing pictures or counting tiles and sticks to teach them concepts like math, Heitmuller said. She said refugees give something back: They broaden minds.

“I think it is humbling for the rest of our students to realize what a refugee student has been through,” Heitmuller said. “I mean, they may have seen genocide.”

Some bring scars. On a recent afternoon at DeKalb’s International Student Center, a boy from Eritrea had to be pulled from class. He calmed down after some reassuring words in the hallway from assistant principal Varavarnee Vaddhanayana.

He sometimes fidgets or throws pencils, she said later. She thinks he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Some of them adjust well,” Vaddhanayana said. “Some of them don’t adjust at all. So we work with them.”

DeKalb graduate Hassan Haji adjusted well. The native of Somalia lived in a refugee camp in Kenya before coming to DeKalb in 2005. He knew enough English and had done enough class work to test out of the International Student Center. He still needed tutoring at DeKalb Open Campus High School, though.

He just graduated from the University of Georgia with a double major in biochemistry and microbiology. He hopes to attend medical school.

The support from DeKalb tutors was crucial, said Haji, 23, “because I didn’t know what to do when I came here. If they see a weakness, they just sit down with you and talk with you individually.”

Like most refugees in Georgia, Haji lived in Clarkston.

During the past federal fiscal year, about 3,200 refugees resettled in Georgia, said Singleton, the state official. As in preceding years, the vast majority, about 70 percent, wound up in DeKalb. Resettlement experts say most land in Clarkston, where mass transportation, inexpensive apartments, jobs and a concentration of global aid agencies have created a haven for foreign newcomers.

The signs of immigration are plentiful in the tiny city near the intersection of I-285 and the Stone Mountain Freeway.

The billboard in the front lawn of an elementary school advertises summer classes in English as a second language, and an aging strip mall down the street has been repurposed for global tastes. A grocer there sells meat prepared per Islamic law, a clothing store sign depicts women with their heads covered by scarves, and a forgotten yard sign at the edge of the parking lot announces a May festival for Eritrean Independence Day.

Zai Iang, a 15-year-old girl from Myanmar, lives in a nearby apartment complex. On a recent afternoon, she was toting a manilla folder that contained a book and a reading log for a summer school class. Zai came to America from a refugee camp in Malaysia in 2009, and she just finished her last year at Freedom Middle School. She said she appreciated the extra tutoring there.

“We don’t understand first time,” she said. “Second time they teach us more, so we understand.”

She said refugees stick together and American kids are uninterested in them. The international students use their broken English to communicate, since it’s usually the only shared language. “Other people, they don’t want to friend us,” she said, “so we friend each other.”

Teachers somehow cut through the language problems.

“Our goal is to graduate them,” said Sandra Nunez, who runs DeKalb’s English Language Learner’s program. “To do that, we have to provide very focused and intensive service.”

The DeKalb refugee program is folded into the overall effort to educate the system’s 9,500 immigrants and other students who do not speak English fluently. About 250 teachers, administrators and support staff are involved.

The federal government helps cover the cost, giving DeKalb about $3 million this school year, according to state officials.

That means teachers such as Tran can focus on students like the boy in the red shirt in Room 213.

The teenager was using a pencil and ruler to plot the answer to a slope problem. The boy, a refugee from Myanmar, had continued working when other students disappeared during a break.

After the break, Tran approached his desk, and the boy put his pencil down.

“What is X equal to?” Tran asked.

“Two,” the boy said.

“Very good. What about Y?”

“Zero,” the boy responded.

“Yes, very good.”

Tran moved to the next desk, and the teen picked up his pencil and ruler, and quietly continued his work.

The New Kerala – MHA sanctions crore for development of border areas

Shillong, Jul 12: The Ministry of Home Affairs has sanctioned several crores for development of areas along the international border areas with China, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Bhutan, an official said today.

Official sources said an amount of Rs 6690.50 lakhs were allocated to Arunachal Pradesh, Rs 4000.00 lakhs to Assam, Rs 1843.00 lakhs to Manipur, Rs 2202.00 lakhs to Meghalaya, Rs 2930.00 lakhs to Mizoram, Rs 2500.00 lakhs to Nagaland, Rs 2000.00 lakhs to Sikkim and Rs 3579.00 lakhs to Tripura under the Border Area Development Programme (BADP).

The Department of Border Management under the Ministry of Home Affairs is implementing the BADP through the state governments to meet the special developmental needs of the people living in remote and inaccessible areas situated near the international border.

”The projects are aimed at to provide these areas with the necessary infrastructure through the convergence of Central/State/BADP/Local schemes,” the official said.

He said the BADP is a 100 per cent Centrally-sponsored scheme and funds are provided to the states as a non-lapsable Special Central Assistance (SCA) for projects relating to infrastructure, livelihood, education,health, agriculture and allied sectors.

The Irrawaddy – Burmese Health Officials Issue E. Coli Warning
Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A month after an outbreak of deadly illness caused by a rare strain of E. coli killed 50 people in Germany and France, Burmese Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials have announced that they have discovered evidence of the bacteria in Burma.

FDA officials said that they found E. coli during restaurant inspections in various parts of the country, but provided no details about where and when the discoveries were made.

They also hastened to add that the samples they found were not the same variety of enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) that created a major health emergency in Europe in June.

“It is not a kind of EHEC that can threaten people’s lives, but people need to clean food and vegetables very carefully in order to prevent the bacteria. It is also necessary to educate  workers from livestock farms and butchers about good hygienic practices,” Dr Kyaw Lin, the director of the FDA, told reporters recently in Rangoon.

A physician from Rangoon said that the health authorities should educate the public about E. coli, which can cause diarrhea, food poisoning and other diseases. The bacteria can be contracted  by consuming raw vegetables, meat and milk.

On June 10, health officials in neighboring Thailand announced that they found E. coli in the country. The bacteria reportedly originated from avocados imported from the European Union.

Burmese authorities rarely announce detailed information about the spread of infectious diseases in the country, although state-run media did cover the outbreak of H5N1 avian influenza in 2007.

Caption: Burma’s FDA officials said that they found E. coli during restaurant inspections in various parts of the country.

The Irrawaddy – Wunna Maung Lwin: Military Commander to Foreign Minister
By WAI MOE Wednesday, July 13, 2011

One of busiest cabinet members in Naypyidaw is Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin, having greeted countless diplomats and important foreign guests since President ex-Gen Thein Sein’s new administration took office on March 30.

In his first days as foreign minister, Wunna Maung Lwin met Indian External Affairs Minister SM Krishna, former US presidential candidate and senior Republican Senator John McCain, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Joseph Yun, high ranking guests from China and other senior officials from Southeast Asia, both in Napyidaw and abroad.

And Wunna Maung Lwin is not afraid to throw his weight around, reportedly chastising US diplomat Joseph Yun during his Burma trip in May.

Rangoon weekly The Myanmar Times reported on May 18 that there were complaints over the senior American diplomat using the term “Burma” rather than “Myanmar.”

“You might think this is a small matter, but the use of ‘Myanmar’ is an issue of national integrity. Using the correct name of the country shows equality and mutual respect,” Wunna Maung Lwin was quoted as rebuking Joseph Yun.

However, Wunna Maung Lwin is not a career diplomat who became foreign minister, but a former military operational commander turned Burma’s top emissary.

In his previous military role, he was involved in Burmese Army offensives in Karen State before joining the civilian department in the late 1990s.

He was born in 1952 and attended the famous Dagon -1 high school in Rangoon, also known as English Methodist, before joining the military academy.

His army background began in 1971 at the Defense Service Academy (DSA) Intake 16th, and he remained in Pyin Oo Lwin until 1974. There he won the best cadet award, best training award and best academic.

Wunna Maung Lwin was also an English tutor at the DSA under the rank of captain in the early 1980s. He then served as General Staff Officer grade-3 at the War Office’s research department.

As a military officer based at No. 24 Infantry Battalion in Thaton, Mon State, under the South-East Regional Military Command, in 1989 Wunna Maung Lwin became involved in a major offensive in Maethawar, Karen State.

And this military experience in Karen State was not his last. From 1994 to 1996 he was appointed colonel of the tactical operation command in Kyar Inn Seik Gyi, Karen State.

At the time, the Burmese Army—also known as the Tatmadaw-Kyi—was battling the ethnic armed group of the Karen National Union (KNU) in eastern Burma. During this conflict government troops launched a series of offensives against the rebels to take the KNU’s headquarters of Manerplaw, near the Thailand border.

After serving in Karen State, in 1996 he was set to be promoted to a regional military commander and ordered to attend the National Defense College. However, he missed out on the promotion after reportedly failing a medical examination there. Later he was transferred to the Ministry of Border Areas and National Races and Development Affairs as a director-general.

After joining the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), he attended the 1st Intake Diplomacy Course and became Burmese ambassador to Israel from 1999 until 2001. He was then posted to Paris as ambassador from 2001 until 2004, and assigned to Washington DC in 2005 but was rejected by the US authorities.

Instead he was reassigned as the Burmese permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva, as well as an extraordinary ambassador to Switzerland.

In Geneva, he was favored by ruling generals in Naypyidaw for defending Burma against criticism of the junta’s human rights records at UN meetings. Sources at the MoFA said this primed him for a ministerial position. Even human rights activists admit that he was able to argue the junta’s position well in the Swiss city.

Drawing comparisons with predecessors which include Nyan Win, Win Aung and Ohn Gyaw, a diplomat source who met Wunna Maung Lwin said, “his personality was not as good as even his recent predecessor [ex-Maj-Gen Nyan Win who is now the chief minister of Pegu Region].”

However, a former military officer, who was a classmate of Wunna Maung Lwin at the MoFA’s diplomatic course, described him as “a good man.”

After 100 days serving as Burma’s top diplomat, Wunna Maung Lwin remains unimpressed by the diplomatic community of the country. This is in contrast with Minister for Education Dr. Mya Aye, Minister for Health Dr. Pe Thet Khin, former Agriculture and Irrigation Minister Htay Oo and former Deputy Foreign Minister Kyaw Thu.

A Rangoon-based diplomatic said, on condition of anonymity, that different ministries’ treatment of foreigners depends on the respective ministry’s interests regarding policy priorities.

Government departments approaching diplomats and aid agencies in the Southeast Asian nation can not be sure of their treatment, as foreign embassies were received very differently according to their standing.


Burma’s Foreign Ministry No Plum Posting

Within the first 100 days of Wunna Maung Lwin’s reign as foreign minister, the ministry had to endure the indignity of a defection. In late June, Kyaw Win, Burma’s deputy chief of mission to Washington, sought political asylum in the US, saying there is no change in Burma under President Thein Sein’s new administration.

MoFA sources speculate that at the heart of Kyaw Win’s defection was a ministry order that adult children of Burmese embassy personnel cannot live abroad. The new regulation made an exception for ambassadors, and the decision angered many MoFA staffers.

As within other government departments, sources say, the pervasive misuse of favoritism and frequent employment of double standards has divided colleagues, and causes friction between civilian officials and former military officers.

Cases of corruption and bribery have arisen at the ministry, sources say. Both current and former staffers have complained aloud that they are personally expected to pay about 2 million kyat [US $2,500] to the ministry’s administration department in order to secure a posting abroad, especially in Western countries.

MoFA has traditionally exercised a practice that embassy staffers abroad would take turns at what became known as “plum and lime postings,” meaning shifts between developed countries and Third World postings. However, those with close connections to senior officials in Naypyidaw are reportedly in a position to choose only the “plum postings” if they wish.

A prime example is Aye Aye Myat, a sister of Zaw Phyo Win, the son-in-law of former junta supremo Snr-Gen Than Shwe. Despite MoFA regulations that set a three-year limit for staff in any one country, Aye Aye Myat has been enjoying employment as an embassy attaché in London, and the lifestyle that goes with it since 2006. And she recently extended her contract in the UK.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on condition of anonymity, several MoFA sources complained that  nepotism is still rife within the ministry, with family members of senior generals reaping the fruits of diplomatic postings. Examples given included the acquisition by Than Shwe’s daughters  of luxury apartments in China and Singapore—properties that were originally purchased by the state intended as accommodations for overseas staffers.

In November 2009, there was a significant reshuffle at the MoFA following news that a secret military delegation, led by Gen Shwe Mann, went to North Korea in 2008. After news of the visit leaked to exiled media, 65 senior staffers at the MoFA were reshuffled, demoted or sacked. In early 2010, a clerk with the MoFA, Thura Kyaw, was accused of leaking the relevant documents and sentenced to death. His colleague, Pyan Sein, received a 15-year sentence.

“People would think working at the MoFA is a great job, and that one gets the chance to work and travel abroad,” said a former officer at the ministry. “But the really is not like that.
He said that under Wunna Maung Lwin’s administration, the remaining civilian officials are looked down on by those from military backgrounds. He said the civilian staffers had been accused of being “traitors” and told they could not be trusted.

“They always boast that ‘the greens are needed,’” he said.

The Irrawaddy – Prisoner Denied Visit for Sending Letter
By KO HTWE Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Hnin May Aung (aka Nobel Aye), a prominent female political prisoner in Burma, has been denied visits by her family for calling on the Burmese government to withdraw a public statement claiming that the country has no political prisoners.

Relatives told The Irrawaddy that when they arrived at Monywa Prison in Sagaing Region on July 7, they were told that they could not see Nobel Aye because she had broken prison rules.

“Her father had no chance to give her the parcel we had prepared for her. When he asked a prison official why he couldn’t see her, he was told that a superior official had instructed them to bar family visits, because if someone breaks the prison rules, they should be punished. But the official didn’t say which rule my daughter broke,” said Nobel Aye’s mother, Aye Myint Than.

Aye Myint Than said that while her husband was waiting to meet with the prison official, he could hear his daughter calling out for her mother, who usually came for prison visits, but was unable to do so on this occasion.

“I’m so worried about her because she is suffering from jaundice. I haven’t been able to sleep well since I heard about her calling for me like that,” she added.

This episode occurred just one day after Nobel Aye submitted a letter to prison officials calling on Vice President Thiha Thura Tin Aung Myint Oo, Foreign Affairs Minister Wunna Maung Lwin and presidential adviser Ko Ko Hlaing to retract their recent reiteration of the government’s position that the country has no political prisoners.

Nobel Aye is currently serving her second prison term. She was first imprisoned in 1998, when she received a 42-year sentence for engaging in non-violent political activities together with her mother. She was released under an amnesty in July 2005, following the ouster of Gen Khin Nyunt and the disbandment of his military intelligence apparatus.

She was arrested again on Aug 23, 2007 for taking part in a protest led by the 88 Generation Students group following a dramatic hike in fuel prices that later sparked monk-led demonstrations.

Nobel Aye is not the only political prisoner who has spoken out against the government’s claims that there are no political detainees in Burma. Nay Phone Latt, a blogger who is serving a 12-year prison sentence in Pa-an Prison in Karen State, also opposed the government officials’ statements.

“They [political prisoners] can’t accept this because they have to serve their full prison terms even after other prisoners were granted a remission,” said Aye Aye Than, mother of Nay Phone Latt, who last visited her son in early July.

Meanwhile, five political prisoners in Meiktila Prison in Mandalay Region have also sent a letter to Burma’s new president, ex-Gen Thein Sein, calling for their immediate release and a public examination of their cases.

According to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, there are 1,994 political prisoners currently serving sentences Burma’s prisons, of whom 145 are women.

Shop owners in Pyi Myanmar Department Store demand damages
Wednesday, 13 July 2011 20:31
Myo Thant

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Ninety-eight shop owners who had businesses in the Pyi Myanmar department store in Rangoon are seeking damages after the building’s owner, the Economics and Commerce Ministry, evicted them from the store.

The building has been auctioned and the shop owners were evicted on March 24.

The Economics and Commerce Ministry sold the seven-story building by tender to Myanmar Marketing Research and Development Co. Ltd. (MMRD) and AA Medical Product Co. Ltd. for 41 billion kyat (US$ 51 million) on March 24.

Because of the shop closures, about 300 employees were fired and the shop owners lost their investment in terms of renovation and other costs, shop owners said.

“If we were in other places, we would have already moved from our shops but here we spent a lot of money for renovation (interior decoration) and maintenance and had our businesses here for over 17 years. So we asked them to give us either damages or substitute shops. But we have not yet received anything from them,” said shop owner Soe Myint Aung.

Under a directive from the Economics and Commerce Ministry, the shops had to do major renovation and maintenance two times in 2005 and 2008. Shop owners are seeking damages of 98 million kyat (US$ 122,500) for 98 shops.

“We rented and ran our business here for over 17 years but now they evicted us and ordered us to move from our shops within two weeks. That’s hard to do,” said shop owner Tin Maung Htwe, who added that he has moved his belongings from the shop but he has not yet surrendered the shop to the ministry.

The two successful bidders were MMRD Co. Ltd. owned by Moe Kyaw and AA Medical Product Co. Ltd. owned by  Zaw Moe Khaing.

The shop owners have submitted a petition to the President’s Office, the Rangoon Region government and the Economics and Commerce Ministry asking for damages and new shops.

Shop owners said about 35 domestic media reporters have interviewed them about the eviction but very little news has appeared in the local media so they are trying to gain attention through the exile media.

Myanmar Thamadi journal covered the story last week but the Economic and Commerce Ministry sent a warning to them and an objection, according to an account on Facebook by Myitmakha media.

The ministry started renting the shops in 1996 and reportedly earned more than 5 million kyat a month in rent, according to a letter sent to Mizzima by a committee of shop owners.

The letter said, “It is grossly unfair to give only 14 days notice for eviction from the premises when the shop owners have had businesses there for more than 16 years.”

Mizzima News – Travelling from one prison to another to visit relatives
Wednesday, 13 July 2011 19:59
Te Te

(Feature) – Su Su Kyi is one of the thousands of relatives of political prisoners who must travel long distances across Burma to see their family members. With five relatives who are political prisoners, it is an emotionally draining and financially costly experience.

She has been doing it for many years. She’s been forced to sell her apartment to cover bills, and it’s a constant burden to find people who can care for her own children when she’s on the road.

It’s a painful litany: her daughter, Thet Thet Aung, is serving a 65-year prison term in Myinchan Prison; her son-in-law, Chit Ko Lin, is serving a seven-year prison term in Pakokku Prison; her sister, San San Tin, 63, is serving a five-year prison term in Meiktila Prison; her niece, Noe Noe aka Nwe Hnin Yi, is serving a seven-year prison term in Maubin Prison; her nephew, Kyaw Swar Htay, is serving a 14-year prison term in Bhamo Prison.

“In the future, we will not hope,” Su Su Kyi said. “But when they are released, I will not forbid them to participate in political activities because they are doing it for the country and the people. They were imprisoned for their beliefs. As for me, I’ll visit the prisons as long as they are there. I’ll do it till I die,” she said.

Su Su Kyi, 56, has had to brave erratic bus service and poor road conditions. Sometimes her sisters can care for her oldest children, and she takes the youngest with her.

“I need to take about 10 days per visit to a prison. The child has to travel with me and he becomes travel-worn and gets sick,” she said.
“In 2007, my daughter and my son-in-law were arrested a few days after the 88-generation students launched the protest in Rangoon,” she said, and she began caring for her grandchildren.

“When they arrested my daughter and son-in-law, the youngest grandchild had not been weaned,” she said. “He’s received blood transfusions since he was an infant. Other relatives couldn’t look after him. Many foods are not good for him so I took him with me everywhere.”

Su Su Kyi said that sometimes she was not allowed to meet with her relatives, adding more emotional stress.

In one occasion, she said that although other visitors were allowed to meet with their relatives in Meiktila Prison for one hour; she was allowed just 30 minutes. So, she refused to obey the order and talked for one hour as a protest. As a consequence, her sister San San Tin was sent from the “political prisoner” ward to the “criminal” ward, she said. She said her sister lost the sight in her left eye because she did not receive medical treatment in prison.

She said because her relatives are scattered in prisons across the country, it creates a terrible burden. “They are detained in different prisons and that’s a torture for us,” she said.

Recently, she met with more than 20 family members of political prisoners in her home on in Sanchaung Township in Rangoon to exchange ideas on ways to support families of political prisoners.

Among the parents who attended were the mother of student leader D Nyein Lin (Khamtee Prison); the mother of Si Thu Maung (Buthidaung Prison); the mother of 88-generation student Zaw Htet Ko Ko (Kyaukphyu Prison); the wife of activist Htin Kyaw (Khamtee Prison); the sister of 88-generation student Than Tin (Sittwe Prison); and the father of All Burma Federation of Student Unions member Honey Oo (Lashio Prison). Recently-released political prisoners Zeyar Thaw also attended the meeting, she said.

They established a fund for political prisoners who need medical care.

There are about 2,000 political prisoners in Burma. Despite people’s hope for a general amnesty, only 50 political prisoners along with 14,600 other prisoners were released under the one-year commutation ordered by new President Thein Sein earlier this year.

Mizzima News – An opportunity missed, or an opportunity best lost?
Wednesday, 13 July 2011 16:09
Joseph Ball

(Commentary) – Burma’s 2010 general election and ensuing front of civilian parliamentary rule has certainly not ushered in an era of unbridled freedom and flourishing democracy—arguably not even “disciplined democracy” as promised by the generals.

But at the same time it would be wrong to suggest the same processes have not resulted in significant changes to the Burmese polity—changes asking new questions of those residing both within and outside formal decision-making circles. As a result, there is today a tenuous element of power residing with various political leaders, as well as the people, in sculpting potential paths forward.

For the best part of two decades, at least, Burma’s ethnic and political opposition were confronted with a military, vestiges of a government at times difficult to come by. It was, especially after 2004, fairly simple to discern who was in charge, the convenience of a military hierarchy providing little room for ambiguity in the machinations of treaties or appeals for dialogue.

Not so anymore; there are choices to be had.

There is little doubt that high-profile standing members of the Parliament are facing off, jousting for position in future government scenarios. Most notable is the tug-of-war between Vice President Tin Aung Myint Oo and Speaker of the Lower House Shwe Mann. However, there are multiple other points of debate, including the utility of President Thein Sein. Ex-military men each one, populations within the armed forces can also be expected to be of divided mind as to the competing political voices. Add to this political cauldron the powerful heads of ministries searching for a means of bringing institutionalization to an institutionally starved landscape and there are options aplenty, as partners are sought in tipping scales and hedging exposed positions.

While President Thein Sein has aired tentative overtures toward empowering regional assemblies and modest reform in the running of the state, he is also seen as relatively quiet and not overtly assertive. These characteristics may well have assisted him in landing the presidency in the first place, as operatives try their hand at the manipulation of Parliament from behind the scenes.

As a result, rumours are rife of the president’s imminent demise, as more forceful figures look to imprint their stamp on Burma’s winding, searching road of political form or reform. And at present, if Thein Sein loses the support of the Union Solidarity and Development Party’s key constituents and its military patrons, he has no support.

Though it is difficult to assess just how sincere the president may be in his mollifying words, there is little doubt as to the posturing of some more robust would-be presidential aspirants. Speaker of the Lower House Shwe Mann and Vice President Tin Aung Myint Oo have each stepped forward as aspiring and competing individuals.

Shwe Mann, the former No. 3 in the ranks of the former State Peace and Development Council, has come out highly critical of the workings of the state. Most recently, in a speech to businessmen in Rangoon, the speaker acknowledged Burma’s lowly place in the hierarchy of the world’s countries, appealed for an empowered Parliament and railed against debilitative features of Burmese society such as corruption. General Min Aung Hlaing, commander in chief of Burma’s armed forces, is believed to back Shwe Mann.

In contrast, Tin Aung Myint Oo is seen very much as a defender of the old guard, looking to follow in the image of former Senior-General Than Shwe. There is even talk of the vice president rising in the political ranks via means of a military coup––either direct or indirect. The government’s information minister, Kyaw San, is apparently a further member of this clique, having obediently refrained from giving public attention to Shwe Mann’s critical remarks.

For years spectators marveled at the relative cohesiveness characterizing the Tatmadaw, who ruled over the country in the absence of even the veneer of civilian government, cunningly making use of divide-and-rule tactics vis-à-vis potentially hostile camps. But it is no longer simply the armed forces that occupy center stage in Burmese politics, or the traditional centres of opposition that stand exposed. There are also competing camps, even if led by ex-military figures, to the fracas––not to mention striations within the military reflective of a more complex political environment. Thus, there are options in choosing not only whether to support those in power and their colleagues, but also who to support.

Electoral democracy is but a single element, and a matter that can prove equally empowering or eviscerating to the participatory nature of a society’s role in governance. While the 2010 Burmese general elections proved much closer to an eviscerating electoral experience, space was nevertheless ceded in the fight to enhance participatory governance.

The path to peace and reconciliation in Burma likely lies in dialogue between the government, ethnic representatives and the prominent political opposition. This is nothing new. What is new is the possibility of choosing with whom a future dialogue might take place. Absent tangible options in the past and with trust between parties at a near permanent nadir, for years the static and unsophisticated landscape of Burmese politics meant this was rarely even a remote possibility.

It is, admittedly, tempting to stand aside and watch the Burmese political drama enter a new performance with largely the same cast of lead characters and conclude with a similarly anti-climatic ending as previous productions. And this remains a distinct possibility of what will transpire unless trust is built between outlying populations and inner circles of the government, providing previously nonexistent options in exploring substantive dialogue when coincidence creates the opportunity.

The alternative to waiting in hope that the Burmese political body will spontaneously self-combust is to reassess strategies and contentious issues. Electoral democracy has not come to Burma. However, complexities have arisen in the fabric of Burmese politics as a result of a flawed electoral process. Yet, for progress to be seen, clear signals of support in the direction of identified individuals needs to first be extended.

Admittedly, such counsel holds no guarantee of success and leads to the possibility of working with some parties that share responsibility for the mismanagement of the modern Burmese state. It further in no way promises that once individuals sit down together a clearly agreed upon comprehensive path forward will instinctively take root. Moreover, in the immediate future the 2008 Constitution would in all probability remain in force, with the military overtly enshrined in political theatre and the practical application of electoral democracy as practiced 21 years previously fading ever more into the past.

With such a prognosis, and cognizant of Burma’s modern history, vehement insistence on absolute victory and waiting for the fortuitous day to arrive certainly retains much of its appeal. But, nonetheless, there are today at least identifiable opportunities to be considered in potentially making that day a reality.

DVB News – Children become latest victims of conflict in Kachin State
Published: 13 July 2011

An outbreak of diarrhoea in makeshift refugee camps in northeast Burma set up by Kachin Independence Organisation is affecting hundreds of children taking shelter there and resulted in two recent deaths, according to the KIO.

La Nan, spokesperson of the KIO told DVB three children have died so far in the camps set up in KIO headquarter town of Laiza near China’s Yunnan Province.

“Two children; aged 2 and 5, died in one day with diarrhea – so there are three deaths including the death of another child who was suffering from pneumonia (earlier),” said La Nan.

He said there are about 300 child patients seeking medical assistance everyday at local hospital suffering from illnesses related to lack of clean drinking water and inadequate sanitation.

“Children are mainly suffering from illnesses such as dengue fever and diarrhoea and this may lead to long-term health problems,” he said.

Some 20,000 refugees, who fled armed clashes between Burmese troops and KIO’s armed-wing, Kachin Independence Army that started last month, are sharing accommodation in large halls which makes it easier for the diseases to spread.

La Nan added the refugees are not getting any kind of assistance from aid groups, apart from one Non-Government Organisation in China providing blankets and mosquito nets when the refugees started to arrive in Laiza last month.

Beijing is yet to give the refugees official recognition. A statement released by Kachin Women’s Association-Thailand (KWAT) in June said China has restricted the movement of aid workers along the shared border with Burma.

Reports have also circulated that officials in Yunnan Province warned local households, some of whom are of Kachin ethnicity, along the border not to shelter refugees.

DVB News – Clash in Shan State leaves at least six dead
Published: 13 July 2011

At least six people have been killed in a deadly clash between government security forces and Shan State Army soldiers in southeast Burma on 9 July.

The clash occurred on Taunggyi-Loilem road, after Shan fighters encountered a prison van carrying prisoners to Taung Lay Lone jail in Taungggyi township from Panglong police station.

The clash intensified after the police were joined by soldiers from Light Infantry Division 513 based in nearby Mong Pawn, and police chief of Panglong, two prisoners, the van driver and two soldiers were killed during the clash, according to local people.

An SSA officer confirmed report of the clash but gave different figures on casualty.

“It is correct that the clash occurred. Nine died from the government side and two from the SSA. I can’t give details yet.”

There have been clashes since early this year between Burmese troops and Wan Hai based SSA soldiers who refused to be transformed into members of so-called border guard force.

In northeast Burma, despite negotiations for a new ceasefire, sporadic clashes continue to occur between Burmese troops and soldiers of Kachin Independence Army which also refuses to turn itself into the BGF.


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

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