- UNSC Resolution on Libya sends a
message to other regimes
- Karen petition urges UN to take
action against junta
- Chin state abuses are the tip of
- Stop the looting of Burma
- Global Fund back with new hope
- Aung San Suu Kyi notes parallels
between Middle East and Burma
- Compound interest in Myanmar
- Burma’s President-Elect: A
- Burma introduces prepaid card
system for mobile phones
- Myanmar absorbs 3.56 billion USD
of foreign investment in three months
- Myanmar’s human rights abuses
burden region with exodus of refugees
- Suu Kyi’s determination to
peacefully defy dictatorship remains unchanged
- Asset grabs in Myanmar
- US talks with Myanmar’s Suu Kyi
- Burma snatches power from judges
- Why haven’t the Burmese joined
the recent wave of pro-democracy protests?
- Army seizes 30,000 acres of
- China tops Thailand as biggest
investor in Myanmar
- Burma’s report to UN ‘is
- Why Aung San Suu Kyi wants to
keep sanctions on Burma
- Is Suu Kyi being protected?
- Citizen diplomacy through
- Ethnic parties at the mercy of
- China, Myanmar sign new
- A tale of two Burmas
- Ghosts of Panglong may haunt
- Burma’s authoritarian avatar
UNSC Resolution on Libya
sends a message to other regimes – Lalit K Jha
Irrawaddy: Mon 28 Feb 2011
Washington—The unprecedented unity shown by the powerful
15-member United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in passing
a strong resolution against Libyan leader Muammar
Al-Gaddafi, including a travel ban and asset freeze, also
sends a tough warning to other hardline regimes, including
Burma’s military junta.
The resolution, passed unanimously late Saturday night after
hours of debate, sends a strong message that the
international community will no longer tolerate regimes
across the globe that kill their own citizens or commit
gross human rights violations to hold onto power.
“It is obvious that this referral is going well beyond
Libya,” France’s ambassador to the UN, Gerard Araud, told
reporters Saturday night following a decision by the UNSC to
refer Gaddafi and his cronies to the International Criminal
Court (ICC) for alleged crimes against humanity.
Despite their initial reservations on this issue, China and
India both finally agreed to go along with the rest of the
Security Council in passing the resolution. This is
particularly notable in the case of China, which in the past
has used its veto power to block moves by Western countries
led by France to invoke the “responsibility to protect”
principle in the case of Burma.
This will make it more difficult in the future for China to
block strong international action against the Burmese
regime, as it did following the bloody crackdown on monk-led
protests in September 2007 and in the aftermath of Cyclone
Nargis in May 2008, when the junta was accused of dragging
its heels in response to the disaster, resulting in
thousands of deaths.
The decision to condemn Gaddafi—and the newfound willingness
of China and others to recognize the need to take strong
action against oppressive regimes—was immediately applauded
“The Security Council resolution, which was passed in record
time and included countries that are often reluctant to
empower the international community to take such actions,
sends a strong, unmistakable signal,” US Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton told reporters traveling with her on her way
to Geneva to attend the meeting of the UN Human Rights
Araud, the French ambassador, went even further in
describing the move as a significant break from the past,
calling the ICC referral “a warning to all the leaders who
could be tempted to use repression against this wind of
change, this wind of liberty. We feel it, we felt it in the
Security Council chamber, we feel it in the corridors of
“There is an earthquake going on, and it has reached New
York. I don’t know if there will be a tomorrow. I do hope
there will be a tomorrow. I do hope that responsibility to
protect, international justice and sanctions against
dictators will have a follow-up and that dictators will
listen to what is happening even in the usually prudent
Security Council,” the French ambassador said.
It is noteworthy that France had moved to invoke the UN’s
responsibility to protect option on Burma in response to
both the 2007 Saffron Revolution and Cyclone Nargis, but was
both times rebuffed by the Chinese. At the time, French
Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner suggested that the UN
invoke this collective responsibility to protect the people
China was not the only country that balked at the idea of
invoking the responsibility to protect, or “R2P,” principle
in response to the Burmese junta’s handling of the Nargis
relief effort. Although some experts called on the US and UK
to join France in taking drastic action to deal with the
disaster in Burma, neither country supported the move at the
“The United States and Britain should join with the French
government and introduce a resolution in the UN Security
Council demanding that the Burmese government accept the
offers of international relief supplies and personnel, let
them enter the country immediately and without interference,
and allow the UN to take charge of the humanitarian
mission,” wrote Ivo Daalder, a senior fellow at the
Brookings Institution, and Paul Stares, the director of the
Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign
Relations, in The New York Times on May 13, 2008.
The Burmese expatriate community had also urged the UN to
invoke the R2P principle to save the lives of people
stranded in the Irrawaddy delta after Cyclone Nargis
devastated the area.
“Now is the time to act. You have helicopters, ships and
supplies ready and waiting. Stop waiting for China or the
Burmese regime’s approval and send aid now,” wrote Aung Din,
the director of the US Campaign for Burma, in a letter
addressed to heads of state in the aftermath of Cyclone
Karen petition urges UN to take action against junta –
Mizzima News: Mon 28 Feb 2011
Chiang Mai – A petition signed by 84,000 Karen has been sent
to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to take action against
the Burmese junta’s violation of human rights and military
campaigns against the Karen people.
Organized by the Karen National Union (KNU) and 31 Karen
social organizations in 16 countries in Asia, Europe and
North America, the petition was also sent to leaders of
eight countries including British Prime Minister David
Cameron and Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard,
according to the KNU.
The eldest petitioner was 103 years old and the youngest was
Naw Zipporrah Sein, the KNU secretary-general, said, ‘We
want Mr. Ban Ki-moon to use his power and authority to exert
pressure on the junta to stop the violations of human
rights. We would like to request Mr. Ban Ki-moon to put
pressures on the junta to negotiate a cease-fire across the
country, to hold a serious political dialogue and to build a
federal country that can guarantee racial equality and human
KNU officials said that more than 3,600 villages in Karen
State have been destroyed by the junta in the past 15 years.
More recently, 18 Karen civilians were killed and 38 were
physically abused by junta troops before the election in
November 2010, officials said. It said 52 Karen were
arrested unlawfully, 2,300 were used in forced labour, 198
buildings including homes, schools and churches were
destroyed due to the military clashes in the Karen State,
and more than 3,000 Karen villagers were forced to seek
refuge in the jungle, according to the KNU statement.
During 2010, there were more than 1,000 clashes between the
Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the armed wing of the
KNU, and junta troops in Thaton, Taungoo, Nyaunglebin,
Myeik, Dawei, Papun, Kawkareik and Hpa-an districts, said
The KNU was formed in February 5, 1947, to fight for
equality and self-determination for the Karen people.
Chin state abuses are the
tip of the iceberg – Richard Sollom
Democratic Voice of Burma: Mon 28 Feb 2011
Recently a new Burmese legislature convened for the first
time in 22 years, but the parliament resembles last year’s
electoral exercise – an elaborate show that is a democracy
only in name. Yesterday, as DVB reported, Burma snatched
power from judges as well.
The 50 million people living in Burma are still under the
military regime’s repressive rule, and for them, the human
rights abuses that they suffer at the hands of the military
junta are a regular way of life.
Burma’s military regime has been a constant roadblock to
democracy. The new parliament is under the junta’s strong
arm, and 84 percent of all parliamentary seats are reserved
for current military officers or held by General Than Shwe’s
cronies – the same army soldiers who committed 73 percent of
all reported human rights violations last year. The brutal
treatment of ethnic nationalities under the military junta
is well known to the international community, but the mass
atrocities that they suffer have been deliberately hidden
from the world by this repressive regime.
Physicians for Human Rights recently went door-to-door in
Burma’s remote western Chin state to conduct a random survey
of 702 households. Together with our local partners, we
documented 2,951 abuses over a 12-month period. We found
that government authorities may have killed an estimated
1,000 household members, tortured 3,800 individuals and
raped 2,800 adults and children over the course of the
12-month reporting period. And that’s in just one state of
500,000 people who represent one percent of the total
population of Burma. Our report, Life Under the Junta,
presents strong evidence that Burmese authorities are
committing crimes against humanity.
One 18-year-old woman told us how the Burmese military raped
her at gunpoint in June 2009 in her rural village in Mindat.
The reason they raped her and forced her into servitude is
because she is Christian and Chin – a different ethnic
nationality than the military, who are mostly Buddhist and
The collective voices captured in our survey speak for a
brutalized population who will not see the results of
Burma’s new “democracy.” As one of its first orders of
business, the new parliament should allow a full and
independent investigation into these possible crimes. Such
an investigation, which the United Nations could establish
as a commission of inquiry, is an essential first step to
help Burma replace impunity with accountability and bring
justice and stability to the people of Burma.
I was in Geneva in the days before Burma’s review of its
deplorable human rights record by the United Nations. While
there, I had the opportunity to speak with UN delegations of
countries that publicly support an investigation of crimes
in Burma. The leadership these countries have shown in
forging a path to justice is a hopeful sign, but more
countries must join their ranks. Currently 14 countries
publicly support establishing a UN Commission of Inquiry,
most of which are Western democratic governments. Now these
14 countries, including the United States, should build
cross-regional unity in the push for accountability in Burma
to end these mass atrocities.
We know that Burmese authorities will continue the abuses
that it has been committing for decades, and that the
government will not investigate the crimes on its own. Under
this regime of impunity, the 18-year-old Chin woman who told
us her tale of survival will have no recourse to justice.
International action is essential for justice,
accountability, and a peaceful future. Now is the time for
the international community to come together, stand
alongside the people of Burma and Aung San Suu Kyi, and
demand accountability in a country that has been plagued
* Richard Sollom is deputy director of the Nobel
prize-winning Physicians for Human Rights.
Stop the looting of Burma
– Matthew Smith
Wall Street Journal: Mon 28 Feb 2011
The international community can make it harder for the
generals to steal the proceeds of Burma’s oil and gas
The hunt for Hosni Mubarak’s ill-gotten wealth is underway,
with banks and governments cooperating to return what
belongs to the people of Egypt. However, it may be too late
to recover most of what Mr. Mubarak and his cronies stole,
and in many other cases it may be impossible to prevent such
losses as they are happening. There is one place, though,
where it is both indisputable that the authoritarian rulers
are looting the country’s wealth and possible to do
something about it right now: Burma.
The military junta has been diverting profits from the
lucrative energy sector for nearly two decades. Natural gas
sales to Thailand alone have generated billions of dollars,
accounting for roughly 35% of annual export earnings. But
instead of generating prosperity and hope for Burmese, this
wealth has largely disappeared into the generals’ pockets.
Part of the problem is that very little of the gas revenue
ever officially enters Burma. A well-documented dual
accounting method ensures most of the profit, paid to the
military in U.S. dollars, remains outside of the country’s
national budget. In some cases it is located in shadowy
offshore bank accounts held in trust by entities designed to
avoid international sanctions.
So what can the international community do? The U.S. could
fully implement existing financial sanctions that were
designed to target the generals’ offshore bank accounts.
Section 5(c) of the JADE Act of 2008 already authorizes the
Treasury Department to prohibit Burmese individuals and
foreign banks from accessing the U.S. financial system if
they hold cash or facilitate transactions for the Burmese
Restricted access to the U.S. financial system is a risk
foreign banks will not take lightly. This should have little
adverse impact on Burma’s general population, since they are
already largely isolated from the global financial system,
but it will make it more difficult for the generals to hide
While the full weight of the U.S. legislation has never been
applied, recent reports from Singapore suggest some banks in
the island state have started refusing accounts held by
politically exposed persons from Burma. This shows that
bankers are very aware of the risk of tougher sanctions, and
that such sanctions might be very effective.
Working with Egypt and other transitioning countries to
recover lost or stolen assets is a step in the right
direction, but it’s not enough. A military junta should not
be allowed to openly loot a country’s resources with the
help of the international financial system. Cutting the
generals off from the tools they need to launder their
stolen money is a sound measure that can change their
behavior and help the people of Burma recover what is
* Mr. Smith is a senior consultant with EarthRights
International, which represented Burmese plaintiffs in Doe
v. Unocal Corporation.
Global Fund back with new
hope – Marwaan Macan-Markar
Inter Press Service: Mon 28 Feb 2011
Bangkok – Burma’s transition from an overt military rule to
a civilian administration of retired generals is getting a
shot in the arm from a former critic of the junta – the
Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
The Fund that left the South-East Asian nation in protest
more than five years ago is returning this year to Burma, or
Myanmar. The move follows three agreements inked last
November to finance two-year grants of up to 112.8 million
dollars against the three killer diseases.
It marks an increase from the 98.4 million dollars that the
Geneva-based humanitarian body had pledged during its first
foray. The group pulled out in August 2005 citing political
interference in its programmes.
Support for HIV/AIDS initiatives is billed to get the
largest share, 46 million dollars, with malaria receiving
36.8 million dollars and tuberculosis (TB) 30 million
dollars, according to the Global Fund.
“Burma re-applied for Global Fund grants in 2009 and due to
the technical merit of the proposals the board decided to
approve them,” Marcela Rojo, spokesperson for the Global
Fund confirmed in an IPS interview.
The decision coincided with last year’s general election in
Burma, the first in two decades. The Nov. 7 poll gained
notoriety for its irregularities, prompting critics to say
that little has changed since the country came under the
grip of oppressive military rule in 1962 after a coup.
“No one really expects the new government to improve the
human rights situation, but one practical dividend that must
come with the new parliament is increased humanitarian
space,” says David Scott Mathieson, Burma consultant for
Human Rights Watch, a New York-based global watchdog.
“The Global Fund (entry), given its past experience, is
going to be an important litmus test in assessing the new
government’s sincerity,” he added.
The significance of its re-entry is clear to the Fund, as it
begins working with its international partners in the
country, Save the Children and the United Nations Office for
Project Services (UNOPS).
“Strong additional safeguards have been put in place to
ensure strict oversight of these grants and to ensure the
ability of the Global Fund to move quickly should any
irregularities be identified,” said Rojo. These include an
assurance from Burmese officials that the Fund’s staff will
have immediate access to implementation sites.
“Funding for life saving drugs, awareness raising in the
most vulnerable populations, and behavioural change
campaigns will feature in the package to combat HIV,” said
Andrew Kirkwood, head of Save the Children’s Burma office,
that receives 28.3 million dollars for its AIDS programmes.
“The goal is to reduce HIV transmission and HIV-related
morbidity, mortality, disability and social and economic
impact,” he added in an interview.
Burma reportedly has nearly 240,000 people living with HIV,
of which 120,000 need life prolonging anti-retroviral (ARV)
drugs. Many of them belong to the three most vulnerable
groups: female sex workers, men who have sex with men, and
injecting drug users.
Malaria has left an equally troubling trail, with nearly 70
percent of the country’s 57 million people at risk, and 475,
297 already infected, according to health reports. TB is as
virulent, with some 200,000 cases reported in 2008, placing
Burma 20th among 22 countries across the world topping in
the burden of the disease.
Dovetailing with the Fund’s initiative is another
international programme, the Three Diseases Fund (3DF),
aimed at caring for the sick infected by HIV, TB and
Set up by a coalition of donors from Australia, Britain,
Sweden, the Netherlands and the European Commission, 3DF
invested an estimated 100 million dollars when it came to
Burma in 2006 after the Global Fund quit.
“These programmes have provided 21,138 people living with
HIV antiretroviral medication, detected and treated more
than 100,000 cases of tuberculosis and treated over one
million cases of malaria,” Sanjay Mathur, director of UNOPS
in Burma told IPS.
“The challenge to cover all those in need has always been
daunting,” admits Paul Yon, head of the Medecins Sans
Frontier (MSF- Doctors Without Borders) mission in Burma.
“The pulling out of the Global Fund in Myanmar did not make
the situation better for the people in need of HIV/AIDS,
tuberculosis and malaria treatment for sure,” he told IPS.
“MSF has always been advocating for international inputs and
to get donors such as the Global Fund back in the country.”
The desperate need for foreign funds was brought home by MSF
in 2008, when it warned that 76,000 patients needed the
life-prolonging ARV therapy but only about 25,000 were
receiving first-line drugs.
By then, the military regime’s record on welfare was as
notorious as its oppressive grip. The junta had only
permitted some 1,800 people to be treated with ARVs in 22
hospitals across the country. The health budget that year to
care for people living with HIV was only 200,000 dollars,
compared to the nearly 8 billion dollars the regime had
earned from natural gas sales from the resource rich country
between 2000 and 2008.
“Aid has always been a political issue in Burma and it will
be that way now that the Global Fund is back,” said a
Rangoon-based doctor who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“We need this assistance, because it is a lifeline for the
Aung San Suu Kyi notes
parallels between Middle East and Burma – Luke Hunt
Voice of America: Fri 25 Feb 2011
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Nobel Laureate and pro-democracy
advocate Aung San Suu Kyi says the people of Burma are
closely following events in the Middle East, where largely
peaceful protests have forced governments out of office in
Tunisia and Egypt.
Aung San Suu Kyi says Burma’s military government has
attempted to block coverage of events in the Middle East
from reaching ordinary people without much success. She
spoke to foreign correspondents in Kuala Lumpur through an
audio link from Rangoon.
The 65-year-old Nobel Laureate said the ousting of
governments in Tunisia and Egypt – as well as the
confrontation between supporters of Libyan leader Moammar
Gadhafi and anti-government protestors – were followed
closely by the Burmese people.
“They are comparing what’s happening there with what
happened in Burma [in] 1988 and one of the things they have
noticed is that in Tunisia and in Egypt the army did not
fire on its people, whereas in Libya it is different,” she
said. “The outcome also seems to be much more complicated
and much worse in Libya than in Tunisia and Egypt. Everybody
is waiting around to see with great interest what transpires
because people were impressed with
what happened, particularly in Egypt.”
As leader of the National League for Democracy, Aung San Suu
Kyi won democratic elections in 1988 but the result was
rejected by the military, which put down protests and has
ruled the country ever since.
Aung San Suu Kyi spent most of the last two decades behind
bars or under house arrest before she was freed last
November, after scheduled elections, widely regarded as a
sham by international rights groups and others.
Under military rule, civilian frustrations have erupted into
protests on the streets of the capital, Rangoon, most
recently in 2007 when thousands of Buddhist monks
demonstrated. They were beaten harshly, fired upon by the
military and jailed.
Aung San Suu Kyi says this is the significant difference
between the plight of Burmese people and those living under
totalitarian or autocratic regimes in the Middle East.
“Well the people have stood in Burma before as you know and
in those instances they were fired upon by the army and I
think that makes a great difference. Now the situation in
Libya is that the army itself appears divided in regard to
how the situation should be handled. In
Burma I don’t think there was any noticeable divisions with
regards to the policies of the military,” she said.
Aung San Suu Kyi says even Burma can not escape 21st Century
technology that has significantly increased the ability of
people to organize without interference by their governments
and she says she intends to sign up for Facebook and Twitter
as soon as possible.
There are also plans to expand her party’s network among
Burmese people living abroad to bring pressure on the
Burmese military and the government, which she hopes might
encourage them to the negotiating table and towards national
Compound interest in
Myanmar – Bertil Lintner
Asia Times: Fri 25 Feb 2011
Bangkok – While the outside world grapples with how much
power Myanmar’s new partly civilian government will command,
the country’s still ruling generals are literally digging
in, taking no chances of a substantial power shift after
last November’s general elections.Those who predicted that
the blatantly rigged polls would mean something more than
further institutionalizing the military regime may now have
to reevaluate those assessments. United Nations secretary
general Ban Ki-moon said in New York on February 5 that he
hoped the new elected parliament would mark “the beginning
of a change in the status quo” in Myanmar. He said that the
appointment of retired general Thein Sein as the new
president was “an important step”.
However, those hopes were dashed just days after Ki-moon
presented his optimistic scenario for Myanmar’s political
future. The old junta strongman, General Than Shwe, decided
against retirement and will become the chairman of a new
seven-member “State Supreme Council”, which, as the name
suggests, will be the most powerful institution in the
Significantly, the new constitution, under which last year’s
elections were held and the new government formed, does not
mention or legally mandate the creation of any such body.
Many earlier thought Than Shwe would retain influence
through a constitutionally mandated 11-member National
Defense and Security Council (NDSC), which will be led by
Apart from chairman Than Shwe, the extra-constitutional
State Supreme Council will also include the number two in
the old junta hierarchy, General Maung Aye. Other former
members of the now dissolved junta, known as the State Peace
and Development Council (SPDC), will include Thura Shwe
Mann, a known Than Shwe ally who supposedly retired from
military service to become a “civilian politician” before
last year’s election. He has also been appointed the new
speaker of the Lower House of the new National Assembly.
More importantly, a new village has been built on the
outskirts of the capital Naypyidaw, apparently to ensure
that members of the top brass remain in view and stay in
step with Than Shwe’s new political order. According to a
town plan leaked to Asia Times Online, 16 new homes have or
are in the process of being built behind a high-walled
compound for the country’s 16 top military leaders.
Than Shwe’s own residence sits at the center of this
exclusive, closely guarded “gated community”. He will reside
in a huge mansion, complete with a sprawling garden,
tree-lined driveway and swimming pool, according to the town
plan. Next door, the plan shows, his deputy Maung Aye will
reside in a considerably smaller villa.
Homes in the compound have also been reserved for Thein
Sein, the former lieutenant-general-turned-civilian
president, supposedly retired former general Thura Shwe
Mann, and ex-Lieutenant General Tin Aye, now chairman of the
Election Commission. The other houses will belong to other
generals and newly appointed parliamentarians.
According to the source who leaked the town plans, Than Shwe
wants to make sure that no one in his flock goes astray:
“It’s like they are under some kind of house arrest. Than
Shwe is dead-scared of any possible split, or even
disagreements, within the top military leadership,” the
source said. To guard against potential threats, there is a
complex network of bunkers and bomb-proof culverts built
under Than Shwe’s presumptuous new residence, according to
the plan. Apart from a domestic revolt, Than Shwe is known
to fear a possible US-led foreign invasion.
Historically, Myanmar’s ruling military has demonstrated a
remarkable ability to remain united in the face of both
domestic protests and international condemnation,
particularly of its abysmal rights record. However,
divergent opinions over how to handle public unrest became
apparent among junta leaders in late 2007, when hundreds of
thousands of Buddhist monks marched through the old capital
Yangon and other cities and towns.
There was also reportedly disagreement among the top brass
over whether international aid should be accepted after
Cyclone Nargis devastated much of lower Myanmar in May 2008.
According to a cable from the US Embassy in Yangon, which
was sent shortly after the cyclone and made public by
WikiLeaks in February this year, both Than Shwe and Thura
Shwe Mann were reluctant to allow international rescue
workers into the country.
“Than Shwe remained worried about a US invasion and [was]
determined to hold on to power,” the leaked cable said. Than
Shwe was eventually persuaded by other top generals to give
rescue workers access to the affected areas, but only after
more than a hundred thousand people had perished and
hundreds of thousands more were dislocated or otherwise
adversely impacted by the natural disaster.
Faced with a Buddhist monk-led revolt in 2007, both Than
Shwe and his deputy Maung Aye “gave the orders to crackdown
on the monks, including shooting them if necessary”,
according to another US cable made available by WikiLeaks.
Dated November 28, 2007, that cable alleges that Thura Shwe
Mann disagreed with the decision to suppress the monk-led
anti-government manifestation, but carried it out while
“quietly advising regional commanders to do so with minimal
With the country’s 16 most powerful men living together
inside a new compound, future disagreements will be more
easily managed, some sources suggest. The appointment of
Thein Sein as president will also ensure that little changes
after the election and the formation of a new National
Myanmar sources draw parallels with the Machiavellian
tactics deployed by former strongman Ne Win, who “retired”
as president of the country in 1981 and symbolically handed
power to San Yu, a weak and colorless figure who obediently
complied with his boss’s wishes. Ne Win also stayed on as
chairman of the then ruling Burma Socialist Program Party,
the country’s supreme authority, until both he and San Yu
resigned in 1988 amid massive anti-government demonstrations
that swept the country.
According to the assessment of some Myanmar insiders, Thein
Sein has become “Than Shwe’s San Yu”. As one of the leaked
US cables suggests, Thein Sein may have been among those who
wanted to accept foreign assistance after Cyclone Nargis.
However he is not known to have ever challenged any major
official policy – no matter how controversial.
On May 9, 2001, when Thein Sein served as a major general
and commander of the Myanmar Army’s Golden Triangle Command
in eastern Shan State, he said in a speech before former
rebels in the town of Mong La near the Chinese border: “I
was in Mong Ton and Mong Hsat for two weeks. U Wei Xuegang
and U Bao Youri from the Wa groups are real friends.”
Wei and Bao may have made peace with the central government,
but both have been indicted by a US court for their
involvement in the Golden Triangle drug trade, which
includes the production of methamphetamines as well as
heroin. To Thein Sein, however, they were “friends” of the
regime. Such tow-the-line statements indicate to observers
that Thein Sein will remain a loyal servant to Than Shwe in
his new presidential capacity.
According to another of the leaked US Embassy cables, “Than
Shwe’s isolation and paranoia know no bounds … the question
is who is brave enough to shunt Than Shwe aside? Most
Burmese [Myanmars] tell us no one.” Because all the top
generals will be closely guarded neighbors under the
watchful eye of a general who will remain the country’s most
powerful player, the potential for an internal coup seems as
remote as the country’s democratic prospects under
* Bertil Lintner is a former correspondent with the Far
Eastern Economic Review and the author of several books on
Myanmar. He is currently a writer with Asia Pacific Media
Burma’s President-Elect: A
Irrawaddy: Fri 25 Feb 2011
Upon inspection, the make-up of Burma’s “new” government
much resembles the old. The only apparent difference from
the military regime that has run the country for the past
two decades is that certain job titles have changed to
accommodate the facade of a civilian government and some
ministers who had fallen out of favor with junta chief
Snr-Gen Than Shwe have been replaced by their deputies.
Probably the biggest indication that it is junta
business-as-usual in Naypyidaw is the fact that former Prime
Minister Thein Sein, who is Than Shwe’s most malleable
puppet, is now President-elect Thein Sein. But does the fact
that he has been appointed the new government’s first
president demonstrate a shrewdness that he is not often
given credit for?
Born in Irrawaddy Division, Thein Sein was a 1968 graduate
of the Defense Services Academy’s 19th Intake. He was a
major in Light Infantry Division 55 when the nationwide
pro-democracy uprising broke out in 1988 and later served as
the commander of Infantry Battalion 89 in Kalay, Sagaing
In 1989, Thein Sein’s path to promotion opened following
graduation from the well-known Command and General Staff
College in Kalaw, Shan State, and he was later assigned to
the War Office as the Colonel General Staff for Than Shwe.
Observers said Thein Sein was transferred to the War Office
as a courtesy to ex-Gen Khin Maung Than, the former head of
the Bureau of Special Operations. At that time, fighting in
the northeastern region had subsided and the junta was
focusing its military efforts on the Karen National Union
and the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front in the
southeastern part of the country, where the army engaged in
hard-fought battles in which many senior officers died.
Being good at office work, Thein Sein became known as
“Senior Clerk.” The dutiful Thein Sein gained favor with
Than Shwe for his work as the junta chief’s personal
assistant and was promoted to brigadier general earlier than
expected. Although the Colonel General Staff position was
traditionally held only by colonels, Than Shwe let Brig-Gen
Thein Sein remain in the post.
In order to keep up with the growing number of officers,
Than Shwe and a group of military leaders decided to expand
the size of the army. Consequently, more divisions were
created and Thein Sein was assigned to establish the newly
formed No. 4 Military Operations Command in Rangoon’s Hmawbi
In 1997, Thein Sein became the commander of the Triangle
Region Command based in eastern Shan State. The nature of
the orders he received in this command reportedly caused him
painful head-aches, and according to Tachileik residents, he
often went to a barber shop to get his hair washed in an
effort to relieve his sufferings.
During his time as the Triangle Region Commander, Thein Sein
developed a reputation of being anti-Thai because a number
of border skirmishes with Thai troops occurred on his watch.
When Lt-Gen Tin Oo, who was then the Adjutant General, died
in a helicopter crash in Karen State in 2001, Thein Sein
became his successor. Two years later, he was appointed
Secretary 2 of the State Peace and Development Council
(SPDC), and after the regime adopted its seven-step “Roadmap
to Democracy,” he was assigned to be the chairman of the
National Constitutional Convention.
Some who know him well said that although Thein Sein seems
kinder and less haughty than other generals, he possesses
the same negative character traits as most Burmese army
officers—he once punched a railway station master in
Mandalay. Nonetheless, among the arrogant and haughty top
generals who comprise his peer group, Thein Sein is
reportedly considered more open-minded and easy-going than
Thein Sein’s non-confrontational style led him to become
known as Than Shwe’s “yes-man” who always listened to the
junta chief whether he was right or wrong. From the junta
chief’s perspective, this made Thein Sein the perfect choice
to fill the vacancy when then Prime Minister Lt-Gen Soe
Win—who allegedly masterminded the 2003 attack on Aung San
Suu Kyi and her entourage—died of cancer.
As Prime Minister, Thein Sein was sent into the
international arena and often asked to carry the regime’s
highly controversial flag. According to recent dispatches by
Wikileaks, Than Shwe ordered Thein Sein to boycott a meeting
of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) held
after the 2007 monk-led protests in Burma if Asean leaders
allowed Ibrahim Gambari, a former UN special envoy to Burma,
to speak at the meeting.
Also according to Wikileaks, Than Shwe ordered Thein Sein to
try his best to alleviate US sanctions imposed on the junta,
and Thein Sein became the first Burmese general to be
allowed on US soil since 1988.
During his visit to New York, Thein Sein almost had the
dubious distinction of being the first Burmese prime
minister to be hit by shoes when former student leader Moe
Thee Zun and other Burmese activists planned to throw their
shoes at his car. For better or worse, he managed to avoid
Thein Sein was not given much respect at home, either. His
mandates were reportedly blocked by Thiha Thura Tin Aung
Myint Oo because he was considered too weak to handle the
job of prime minister. Other ministers even remarked that
Tin Aung Myint Oo had usurped Thein Sein’s power.
The two rivals have moved in unison into the new
government—they have now become the President and the Vice
President, respectively—and some observers said tension
between Thein Sein and Tin Aung Myint Oo has already
appeared in the Parliament and the ruling junta.
A businessman who met Thein Sein in person told The
Irrawaddy that the President-elect is a good speaker, good
at administrative matters and also well-liked by many
people, but he does not seem to have an economic vision. The
businessman said he does not know how the new President will
administer the country’s economy without economic knowledge.
But even though he may not personally understand much about
Burma’s economy, Thein Sein has recruited businessmen such
as Khin Maung Aye, the chairman of the Co-operative Bank who
allegedly became rich through illegal logging, to be his
advisors. He reportedly takes Tay Za and Zaw Zaw, the
Burmese economic tycoons who are subject to Western
sanctions, along with him whenever he makes a trip outside
Compared to Snr-Gen Than Shwe and other top generals who
have been repeatedly accused of making the state’s money
their own, Thein Sein is thought to be the least corrupt
former general. Also, his children are reportedly not
business hungry persons like those of former Gen Shwe Mann
and Tin Aung Myint Oo.
Khin Khin Win, Thein Sein’s wife, said, “We don’t have
money. We are living in the house provided by the State.”
However, some ethnic Wa and other leaders from the Triangle
Region Command have said that there is no regional commander
or general who does not accept bribes. So Thein Sein may
have savings from what he was able to pocket while serving
as the regional commander and prime minister.
Perhaps Burma’s Office of the Auditor General has just not
yet caught up with Thein Sein—something which often
coincidentally occurs when Than Shwe decides that a top
junta official’s usefulness to him has run its course.
Burma introduces prepaid
card system for mobile phones – Na Yee Lin Let
Irrawaddy: Thu 24 Feb 2011
Burma’s Ministry of Telecommunications, Post and Telegraphs
has finally agreed to allow mobile phone users to buy
“top-ups” for their phones to replace the existing billing
Sources at the ministry in Naypyidaw said that prepaid
top-up cards will be produced by the E-lite Tech company, a
subsidiary of the Htoo Trading Company, in collaboration
with semi-government-owned Myanmar Teleport.
Currently, Burma has both GSM and CDMA networks. A WCDMA
network was launched in 2009, but with very limited
Burma introduced a cellular phone system in 1993, followed
by the CDMA system in 1997 and the GSM system in 2002.
“Anyone can install the system on their mobile phones at any
E-lite Tech shop or its affiliates,” an official said.
“However, the phone service will be suspended for a day
while the new system is installed.”
Traditionally, Burma’s telecommunications have been
dominated by the state-owned monopoly telephone service
provider, Myanmar Post and Telecommunications (MPT).
However, Central Marketing and E-Lite have reportedly been
given the contract because they have the technology and
infrastructure to provide better service.
In January, Myanmar Teleport and six privately owned
companies—including E-Lite and Redlink, owned by Toe Naing
Mann, the son of Burma’s former No. 3 general, “Thura” Shwe
Mann—have introduced a VoIP system in mobile phones that is
now available in cities including Rangoon, Mandalay and Pyin
Telecommunications authorities said they are building more
cross-border fiber optic links with neighboring countries in
addition to China, Thailand and India to improve domestic
Internet communication links. They also said that they are
are planning to expand GSM coverage to its neighbors
including Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and China.
Burma’s mobile market has been growing at an annual rate in
excess of 25 percent over the last three years, although
foreign investment in the telecoms sector continues to
According to research by Paul Budde Communication Pty Ltd.,
released on September 2010, investment in Burma’s telecoms
sector has been running at less than $6 million per year.
The statistical figures show that the telephone density now
stands 37 per 1,000 of the population.
Myanmar absorbs 3.56
billion USD of foreign investment in three months
Xinhua: Thu 24 Feb 2011
YANGON — Myanmar absorbed 3.56 billion U.S. dollars of
foreign investment in the three months from November 2010 to
January 2011, bringing the total to 35.406 billion dollars
as of January this year since the country opened to such
investment in late 1988, the Popular News reported
Wednesday.The 3.5 billion USD include 3.18 billion USD from
China, 186 million USD from Singapore, 183 million USD from
South Korea and 3 million USD from China’s Hong Kong, the
Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development was
quoted as saying.
Of the total foreign investment injected in over two
decades, China’s investment has now topped with 9.603
billion USD, overtaking Thailand which once stood 9.568
billion USD in the foreign investment line-up previously.
The Chinese investment was raised by its increased
involvement in building of deep seaport, hydropower plants,
exploration of natural gas and exploitation of mineral
resources and transport.
The foreign investment coming from 433 enterprises of 31
countries and region were respectively injected into 12
economic sectors which are oil and gas, electric power,
manufacturing, real estate, hotels and tourism, mining,
transport and communications, livestock breeding and
fisheries, industry, construction, agriculture and services
Myanmar’s human rights
abuses burden region with exodus of refugees – UN expert
UN News Centre: Thu 24 Feb 2011
Human rights violations in Myanmar are burdening other
countries in the region, with an influx of refuges fleeing a
host of abuses from forced labour and land confiscation to
arbitrary detention and sexual violence, a United Nations
expert warned today.
“There is clearly an extra-territorial dimension,” the UN
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in
Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, said in Kuala Lumpur at the
end of an eight-day fact-finding mission to Malaysia, one of
the affected countries with some 84,800 registered refugees
and asylum-seekers and a large number still unregistered.
“Despite the promise of the transition in Myanmar, the human
rights situation remains grave.”
Other countries in the region also host a considerable
number of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants from
“Countries in the region have a particular interest in
persuading the Government of Myanmar to take necessary
measures for the improvement of its human rights situation,”
Mr. Quintana added. “These measures are an urgent matter for
the new Government, and the international community should
ensure that Myanmar fulfils this responsibility.”
Mr. Quintana met with a wide range of individuals who had
fled Myanmar to Malaysia, the organizations that serve these
communities, and different ethnic groups, particularly the
Chin and Rohingya communities.
“I talked to many people who had recently left Myanmar
fleeing forced labour, land and property confiscation,
arbitrary taxation, religious and ethnic discrimination,
arbitrary detention, as well as sexual and gender-based
violence,” he said.
These included a man who left Chin State after 15 years of
portering and forced labour for the military; a prominent
Chin woman religious leader coerced to read a statement at a
televised event denying restrictions on religious freedom
despite her own views; and a young man who left Northern
Rakhine State after he was denied the necessary travel
permit to attend university and was arrested for trying to
bypass the restrictions.
Another young man left Shan State after years of forced
labour, when the military confiscated his family’s farm and
his brother was arrested and subsequently killed; he himself
was also arrested but managed to escape.
Mr. Quintana will present his latest report to the
Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council next month.
When a new president and vice-presidents of Myanmar were
elected earlier this month by the newly-convened parliament,
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had voiced hope that the move
would lead to the formation of a more inclusive civilian
government broadly representative of all parties “relevant
to national reconciliation and more responsive to the
aspirations of the people.”
Suu Kyi’s determination to
peacefully defy dictatorship remains unchanged – Pak
Mainichi Shimbun (Japan): Thu 24 Feb 2011
The Mainichi Shimbun resumed Myanmar pro-democracy leader
Aung San Suu Kyi’s column, “Letter from Burma,” this year
after a 13-year break. I flew to Myanmar where press
restrains were in force late last year and visited Suu Kyi’s
residence prior to the publication of the first part of the
column on New Year’s Day.Suu Kyi had been under house arrest
there on and off over a 15-year period from 1989 to November
last year. I stood by one of the windows of her residence,
and thought about how firm her determination must be to
spend her life resisting Myanmar’s military dictatorship.
The military dictatorship has been in power in Myanmar for
nearly half a century since the 1962 coup. Suu Kyi founded
the National League for Democracy (NLD) in 1988 in a bid to
democratize the country, and the party secured 82 percent of
the seats in Parliament in a 1990 general election.
Nevertheless, the military regime refused to hand over power
to the NLD and suppressed pro-democracy movements.
The military regime has continued a reign of terror,
detaining and torturing NLD members and supporters. Last
autumn, the regime called a general election and released
Suu Kyi from house arrest. However, the shift to civilian
rule was a mirage and the military is still ruling the
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