KAO WAO NEWS No. 65

 

An electronic newsletter for social justice and freedom in Burma

March 23- April 7, 2004

 

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READER’S FRONT

AIDS THREAT GROWING IN SOUTHERN MON STATE

NMSP DEFENDS AGAINST CAR SMUGGLING ACCUSATION

NOTHING TO SHOW AFTER 9 YEARS OF CEASE-FIRE

KILLING OF MON OUTRAGE EXILE COMMUNITY

LICENSE RENEWAL FOR MOTORCYCLES IN MON STATE

CANADIAN ACTIVISTS PUSH FOR BURMA DEMOCRACY

EURO-MON PLAN FOR SECOND MEETING

TALKS GIVE NEW HOPE FOR PROGRESS

MOVE OVER, BAYINTNAUNG, SAY CEASEFIRE LEADERS

REFUGEE FIRE BOMBS GUT BURMA’S MALAYSIA EMBASSY

 

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READERS' FRONT

 

Dear Readers,

We invite comments and suggestions on improvements to Kao-Wao newsletter. With your help, we hope that Kao-Wao News will continue to grow to serve better the needs of those seeking social justice in Burma. And we hope that it will become an important forum for discussion and debate and help readers to keep abreast of issues and news. Above all, we hope the newsletter will be used as a vehicle for those who want to share their views and experiences.  We reserve the right to edit and reject articles without prior notification. You can use a pseudonym but we encourage you to include your full name and address.

 

Regards,

Editor

kaowao@hotmail.com, kaowao@shaw.ca

www.kaowao.org

 

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On Kanbawza Win’s Sanctions and Actions

 

Dear Kao Wao,

 

Great in put from Kanbawza Win, very cleverly analyze on the real consequences of “Sanctions and Actions”.  The other day I was reading the article about the book: God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time (Random House, $39.95) written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

 

Quotes:  Problems such as terrorism and the Middle East conflict, Tutu argues that we have to address the desperation fuelling people's violence and understand there is no true security from the barrel of a gun." God says there is no way in which we can win the war against terrorism as long as there are conditions that make people desperate," he writes.

 

Regards,

Henry Soe-Win

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On Myint Shwe’s Keeping Bangkok Process on track

 

Dear Myint Shwe,

 

The Kawaiisu Tribe of Tejon wishes to support and praise the Thailand and Burma People in your efforts to create peace and harmony in your land.  Your movement needs to acknowledge one important item, the Indigenous Culture. The thousands of years prior to now made it possible for these lands to exist in a wonderful loving state of being.  My Elders taught me well and the one thing that always stuck with me is this: "Everything that you See, Touch, and Smell today needs to Look, Feel, and Smell the same 30,000 years from now.  This is our core of being and our future for the unborn.

 

Stand together by joining in what is owned in common and not what is owned and capitalized on.  The future is ours for the right reasons!  Know you’re in our minds and hearts.

 

Pogmatog Magot (Creator Knows),

 

Kawaiisu Tribe of Tejon

Chairperson David Laughing Horse Robinson

 

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AIDS THREAT GROWING IN SOUTHERN MON STATE

 

HIV infection in Ye township

 

(By Taramon and Lita Davidson: April 6, 2004)

 

According to a township hospital blood test report taken between 2001 to 2003, over one thousand individuals are infected with AIDS/HIV in Ye township alone, there are 10 townships in Mon State.

 

“Because many HIV patients don’t visit the hospital, the figure could be more than what the official records say.  The local hospital does not provide free treatment, but will to those who can afford to pay bribes to the health workers”, Su-Rein, a community leader from the city said.

 

According to one local medic, “Approximately ten thousand people in Ye township could be HIV positive, many suffer from AIDS but hide their condition from fear of discrimination”.

 

“Many victims are not able to go to the hospital but suffer in isolation.  About 5% of 200,000 total populations in this area are HIV positive,” Nai Soe, a community leader in Ye said.  Some AIDS patients who can afford it have a doctor visit their house for treatment.

 

But according to Care Myanmar health worker Nai Rehmonya from Ye township, there are 250 AIDS patients in Mon State, 57 of which are in Ye township. Care Myanmar has launched a campaign awareness program about the deadly epidemic around Mon State.

 

Rehmonya said there is no counseling available between doctors and patients on how to deal with the situation. No preventive education on AIDS is reaching the marginalized communities, where a radical approach is needed to address the AIDS problem in the whole of the country, but migrant workers in Mon State, a high risk population, need access to health facilities and education, given that migrant workers from Burma make up the largest percentage of migrant labourers in Thailand.

 

Statistics on AIDS in Burma is difficult to verify, UN Reports have been criticized by many, especially BBC’s Larry Jagan who claims that the UN’s reports are 2 years behind, where 2 percent of the population could be infected. AIDS expert Dr. Chris Beyrer states that 4 percent of the population could be infected; some think it may be as high as 7 percent.  See full report:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/1562405.stm

 

Burma is one of the poorest countries in the region and receives the least help from NGOs compared to Thailand and Cambodia in fighting the disease; few donors are willing to assist a country under a military dictatorship.

(Please see: Treat Asia

http://www.amfar.org/cgi-bin/iowa/asia/index.html)

 

If at least 3 percent are infected, over a million people will need access to some kind of drug treatment. But having access to drugs is a pipedream considering the World Health Organization’s recent launching of its 3 million by 2005 ART program to 34 high burden countries. Burma, the highest rate of HIV in Southeast Asia is not even in the lineup to receive help.

 

The military government needs to face up to facts and present their case in the upcoming International AIDS convention to be held in Bangkok in July 2004. "A coordinated national response is now an absolute priority if transmission through commercial sex and injecting drug use is to be curbed," UNAIDS said in its December epidemic update. (Yangoon, Reuters, March 19, 2004)

 

Intravenous drug users and the worst hit in Burma have been getting some help, Médecins Sans Frontières has introduced the first antiretroviral (ARV) treatment program in the country which began in February 2003 in Yangon, where it was first detected in 1988; by October 2003, but only 80 people are under treatment (MSF international homepage).

 

But other segments of the population lack access, especially migrant workers, those working in the mines, fishing industry and the sex industry. When compared on a global level it should be cause for grave concern because Burma’s lack of access to professional care and antiretroviral drug therapy for treating people with AIDS will profoundly affect the future of the country.

 

“Lack of access to antiretroviral therapy (ART) is a global health emergency. To deliver antiretroviral treatment to the millions who need it, we must change the way we think and change the way we act.” LEE Jong-wook, Director-General, World Health Organization, recently said.

 

Northern Ye Township of Mon State captures the magnitude of the problem; Mi Pakao Mu from Lamine said many women including some of her friends in the village got HIV from their husbands who worked in Singapore and Malaysia before they got married. Most of them have died from the disease leaving their widows infected and alone to bring up their children.  To make matters worse, the community frowns on people who have AIDS and the infected families try to cover their stories to avoid being stigmatized.

 

In Mon state, northern Ye township is the most HIV infected region because many people in these areas work as migrant labourers, a high risk population that moves around a lot and visits brothel houses for pleasure.  Nai Rehmonya estimated that about one hundred people die every year in Ye from the deadly disease.

 

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NMSP DEFENDS AGAINST CAR SMUGGLING ACCUSATION

(Kao Wao: April 3, 2004)

 

New Mon State Party denies involvement in the vehicle smuggling business along the Thai Burma border.

 

The NMSP responded to a recent news release that some ceasefire groups have been bootlegging second-hand Japanese cars to Burma from Thailand while their outposts near the border collect taxes and levies from the smuggled goods.

 

On 23 March 2004, the State Peace and Development Council’s Defense Services seized over 20 cars smuggled from the Thai Burma border to the capital city of Moulmein at the Malwetaung outpost between Mon State and Tenasserim Division by the Coastal Region Military Command.


According to local reporter, it is not clear to what extent the groups are involved and whether the seized cars belong to the cease-fire NMSP or DKBA (Democratic Karen Buddhist Army).

 

The NMSP General Secretary Nai Hongsar said one or two cars might be brought in for personal use but the NMSP is not involved in wholesale illegal commercial interests.  However, he admitted that the party lets traders pass the checkpoints, provide security along the road, and levy some taxes.

 

A senior leader of the NMSP who spoke under condition of anonymity said the party is facing difficulty in maintaining discipline among its force and cadres.  Many officers run illegal businesses including car trade and the selling of cell phones from Thailand, even though the NMSP is not directly involved in this business.

 

After the cease-fire agreement with the regime, members within the NMSP have become more corrupt with business opportunities and unity within the party is getting worse corresponding with reality of daily life for many, with the image of the party being at a all time low among the Mon population, he added.

 

All the seized cars did not pass through the checkpoints run by the Burmese military junta but went through the jungle path to avoid paying bribes and a heavy custom duty.

 

“The car seizure is not our matter and local civilians are not concerned.  It’s only a business conflict among the elite groups”, said Charn Lon, a community leader from Zobbu (Thanbyu Zayat) city.

 

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The Right to Food Security

 

NOTHING TO SHOW AFTER 9 YEARS OF CEASE-FIRE

 

The country of Burma is going down the tubes because of the government’s policy and mismanagement.  It’s not because of sanctions from outsiders.

 

(By Sunthorn Sripanngern)

 

In late 1995 after the New Mon State Party reached a cease-fire agreement with the SLORC (the present State Peace Development Council), many people hoped for a better situation particularly in Mon State.

 

There were some agreements for the resettlement of Mon refugees to their home and cross border assistance via Thailand. General Khin Nyunt, Secretary 1 of the SLORC, promised modernization of Mon State within 3 years. Nai Shwe Kyin, President of New Mon State Party traveled throughout Mon State and gave glowing public speeches saying their cease fire agreement would improve the situation of all civilians, most importantly they need not leave and seek employment in the neighbouring countries. We were so happy after watching the video of the NMSP's mass gathering in Mon State.

 

Our dreams were in vain not because of the NMSP’s inability or our lack of uniting the Mon spirit.  Our economy, our society, our country, has been frozen, suspended in time, like an evil spell cast over the country, because of constant regulations and restrictions imposed on us by the ruling military junta. The outright denial of food security threatens the survival of every citizen in Burma. An ordinary farmer is not allowed to transport his crops, to mill his paddy rice, or to sell his products freely. A person who wants to build furniture with rubber wood from his own farmland needs to apply for permission to cut his own rubber trees, needs permission to transport the logs, and a license to own a small engine for the home factory because there is no electricity available. The ruling junta doesn’t apply any law but relies on restrictions so complicated and impractical that at every level of the regime corruption flourishes and cuts off the ordinary citizen of getting food for survival.

 

The ruling junta grants some business concessions to cease fire groups in the field of transportation, construction, mining, banking and finishing.  But by doing so, it split unity within the ethnic groups agreeing to cease-fire groups, between the leaders, members, and ordinary people.  This advantage spawned corruption and the cease-fire groups grew untrustworthy and unhappy with their former supporters, in turn their own people grew disenchanted, social organization broke down and perpetuated a cycle of conflict, poverty, and impoverishment.

 

In 2000, one of the armed groups in northern Burma MDA (formerly a part of the Burma Communist Party) faced conflict between its leaders and members as a result of business opportunities granted by the SPDC. When both sides became exhausted, the SPDC moved in with a large military offensive, demolished them all and took over extolling that they must maintain control of the situation.

 

What did the NMSP get from the cease-fire agreement? The ceasefire agreement only ensured that poverty would be more deeply rooted. Burmese dissident groups joked that the only thing the Mon got was that Nai Shwe Kyin, the NMSP leader, was granted a Burmese passport as a reward of the cease-fire agreement.

 

From 1995 up to 2004, a 9-year period of cease-fire, the local people in Mon State lost about 9,000 acres of their farmland to the SPDC.  Land confiscation has taken place in other ethnic states such as Karen, Karenni and Shan States. As a result, farmers are unemployed and scattered about as displaced persons, with most fleeing to neighbouring countries for their survival. After confiscation, the farmlands became the property of the military battalion, there will be no crops, no products from these lands, no food for hungry people, and finally the military sold off the land to foreign firms with the money going directly into the pockets of military officers. This is mass destruction of the economy by the ruling junta that condemns people face starvation, sell their bodies, or risk their lives working in another country.

 

Due to the deteriorating economy many have left their homes to work in foreign countries.  Among the Burmese migrant workers in Malaysia, the majority come from Mon State. Each worker has to pay from 1,200,000 to 1,500, 00 Kyat to the authorities and brokers. The Malaysia employers keep their passports and work permits, so that the Burmese workers are not able to change their job if they are abused or harassed; and part of their wages is cut for taxes as requested by the SPDC embassy in Malaysia and sent back to the regime.

 

According to the Asian Legal Resource Centre in its statement to the Human Rights Commission on Food Scarcity, hunger persists in Burma not from natural disasters or causes otherwise by human control but from the policies and practices of the Government of Myanmar.  It goes on to say: “The pretensions of the Government of Myanmar to have an interest in the well-being of its people—beyond the modicum necessary for it to ensure its continued authority—have consistently proven fraudulent”. The Right to Food and the conditions under which the Burmese suffer in being cut off from this basic need of access to food, which includes land confiscation, burning of crops, raping of women while gathering for food, exorbitant taxes on the poor, must be made the top priority of all activists and HR’s defenders to demand food security for the people of Burma.

See full report 3 March 2004:

http://www.alrc.net/mainfile.php/60written/229/?print=yes

 

Farmers in Burma are forced to pay the SPDC 30 % what they produce from the land and apart from that they are forced to work for the SPDC's development projects, such as building military bases and road constructions instead of using machines. The poor people of Burma have to pay heavy taxes to the state, while the rich people pay bribes to the elite groups and never to the State.  The SPDC spends the budget from the taxes extorted from the poor people and uses it for unproductive ventures and distributes it to the military troops.

 

The national budget has not increased for the benefit of the people such as public health and education. According to health indicators from the World Health Organization on Burma, its population suffers the worst in the region in terms of health, especially that of adult mortality where 335 males and 236 females per 1000 die between the ages of 15-59; with life expectancy at birth m/f (years): 56.2/61.8; 10 years below that of Thailand.

 

The SPDC doesn’t care about these issues, but is afraid to lose power while governments in the neighbouring countries do their best to help their own people.  When there is not enough water for the farmers, neighbouring governments make artificial rain, when there is low price of their crops the government intervenes by purchasing with a reasonable price. So the farmers are happy to work hard, no need to force them. In central Thailand, the farmers plant rice three times a year but in Burma farmers plant only once.

 

Now Thailand and SPDC have signed a free trade agreement, so the SPDC can export to Thailand only natural resources such as wood, gems, natural gas and fish.  The price of all consuming goods in Burma is higher than Thailand. For example at Three Pagoda Pass 1 kg of onions is 20 Baht on the Burma side, while on the Thai side it’s only 15 Baht.

 

At Three Pagodas Pass, Thai Burma border town, several dozen second-hand cars are sold to the Burmese people every day. The Thai custom office systematically collects the export tax, but on the Burma side, car imports are officially prohibited. How do these cars get in and drive up and down the towns in central Burma?  This is the SPDC's open market and free trade system. Instead of illegal imports, which don’t pay taxes to the state, why don’t they allow imports directly from Japan to Rangoon, so that the import tax can go to the State coffers?  Even though the ruling military junta named itself the State Peace and Development Council, the civilians call it a Special Policy Destroying the Country.

 

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14 Mon Rebels Killed by KNU

 

KILLING OF MON OUTRAED BY EXILE COMMUNITY

(Kao Wao: April 4, 2004)

 

The Mon community in exile is outraged by the news of their fighters being killed by Karen National Union in Ye, southern Mon State.

 

“I am sad to hear that 14 Mon were killed by the KNU.  They broke the principal of Universal Declaration of Human Rights by killing these people without any reason.  If the Mon rebels kidnapped local Karen people and demanded money, the KNU should bring them to justice for penalty and send to jail, but not kill them”, said Lawi, a Mon youth leader based in Thailand.

 

Kao Wao news received several calls about the killing and to ask for further action over the incident.

 

Jambu Dip from Australia said, “We feel regret that they (Karen and Mon) were killing each other”.  Mehm Tun Wei, from Finland, proposed that Mon leaders must inquire about the case immediately.

 

Nai Wimala, a Buddhist monk in Bangkok said the New Mon State Party or Mon leaders should talk with the Karen leaders about this incident.  Otherwise, this consequence could spark a clash like what happened in 1988 when the popular uprising was ripe in Burma, the two ethnic groups (Mon and Karen) were fighting each other for territorial control instead of fighting the common enemy”, he added.

 

According to Nai Pan Nyunt, chairman of the Honsawatoi Restoration Party, his group was on route to a KNU Six Brigade military post to buy arms and carrying 8 million kyat (about US $ 10,000) with them.  14 guerrillas led by Captain Tai Kyaw were reportedly killed on March 20 by the KNU troops near Minhla village, about 10 miles northeast of Ye, Mon State.

 

"We are very sad that it happened; our fighters were not killed by the enemy but the alliance.  This kind of incident should not have happened between ethnic forces," said the Commander and leader of the HRP from the base near Thailand Burma border.

 

In respond to the killing by the KNU, Padoh Mahn Sha, Secretary General of the KNU, has yet confirmed the incident but said clashes between the two groups may occur since the HRP has been known to commit robbery in Karen villages.

 

A Thai Mon leader said the breakaway group of about 200 fighters was under heavy pressure by both the military junta and Thai authorities after a negotiation for a peace talk was cancelled in February.

 

17 HRP members were arrested by Thai local authorities for crossing the border from Burma recently.

 

Negotiated by Nai Soe Myint, a retired member of the New Mon State Party a delegation of HRP was supposed to meet with Major General Kyaw Win, a high ranking intelligence officer and General Ohn Myint, Coastal Region Commander on Feb 29 in Ranong, the southern Thai-Burma border town.  But Colonel Pan Nyunt proposed the meeting in Thailand and the talk was cancelled after the junta was reluctant to hold talk in the Thai side.

 

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Life in Mon State

 

LICENSE FOR MOTORCYCLES IN MON STATE

(Independent Mon News Agency: March 31, 2004)

 

Mon State motorcycle licenses will soon expire and motorcyclists will have to pay for a new city license issued by State Peace and Development Council and military intelligence.

 

According to an announcement from the local SPDC and Mawlamyine based No.5 Military Intelligence, the new motorcycle license will replace the existing license and motorcyclists are informed to change a Mawlamyine City license immediately.

 

In the past, the SPDC had issued Mon State motorcycle licenses (MaPaNa) until 2003.  Prior to this Mon State licenses, the Mawlamyine City License (MaLaMa) were issued for the general public but the junta had stopped issuing City License since 2000 and now they reintroduced this license after a meeting on March 25, reported a business community from the capital of Mon State.

 

Recently, No.5 Military Intelligence issued the order to those holding the Mon State License to change it into Mawlamyine City License with reimbursement money paid for by the State License.

 

However, the reimbursement, according to the order, would be 10,000 kyat while the new license fee is 100,000 kyat.  A biker from the capital said people are upset with the order because it costs too much.

 

At the moment, people in Mawlamyine started to register for city licenses at the Highway Transportation Department but were disappointed because it increased 10th times from the previous license.

 

The local source reported fees for motorcycles made in 2004 and 2003 cost 180,000 kyat and fees for 2000, 2001 and 2002 model motorcycles cost from 130,000 to 140,000 kyat.

 

Imported motorcycles have been widely used in Mon State for many years.  It is estimated that over 30,000 illegal motorcycles were imported from China and Thailand without licenses in the last 4 years. The authority stopped granting licenses in the past and demanded bribes from people who did not have a license.

 

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Awareness Campaign

 

CANADIAN ACTIVISTS PUSH FOR BURMA DEMOCRACY

(Kao Wao: April 2, 2004)

 

Amnesty International (University of Calgary) organized a Burma awareness event in the evening on April 1.  A video presentation titled “Prisoner” was shown to students and Burma supporters following with speeches by Chit Maung and Cham Toik of Mon Canadian Society and Mrs. Elaine Semkuley of the Medical Mercy Canada.

 

“We are going to devote our last Amnesty meeting to letter writing for Burma- for the Mon ethnic group, the refugees, and a student prisoner that we have been campaigning for years, Myo Min Zaw”, said event organizer Amanda Card.

 

In Edmonton, Burma Watch International (BWI) held its Annual General Meeting on March 28, 2004 at the University of Alberta.

 

Those newly elected were Daryl Webster as President, Than Aung as Vice President, Rachel Bocock as Secretary and Phyllis Bocock as Treasurer. Dr. Khin Saw Win, Yi Yi Datar and Saw Darlin Aung were selected as Directors.


Among Burma supporters in Edmonton who joined the meeting were Tiger Yawnghwe, son of Burma’s first President Sao Shwe Thike who traveled from Red Deer, Alberta, and active members of Mon Canadian Society who came from Calgary, Alberta.

 

According to Thang Aung, Vice President of the BWI, a working committee meeting was held on March 31 and is looking for closer cooperation and coordination among all ethnic groups of Burma.

 

The BWI was founded by a group of Canadians and Canadian Burmese activists in 1989, in Edmonton, with the objective to promote public awareness of the political and economical situation of the plight of the Burmese people and provide humanitarian assistance to those in need, especially refugees.

 

At the federal level, a Member of Parliament and Bloc Québécois critic for Asia and the Pacific, Mr. Stéphane Bergeron introduced in the House of Commons, a motion for the federal government to take action and work more diligently to promote and restore democracy in Burma.

 

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EURO-MON PLAN FOR SECOND MEETING

(Kao Wao: March 30, 2004)

 

The Euro-Mon Community is organizing its 2nd annual meeting on April 10, 2004 in Rotterdam, Netherlands according to the source from Mon community in Europe.

 

Nai Bee Htaw Monzel, General Secretary of Euro Mon Community has sent out invitation letters to EMC members and other Mon supporters to join the gathering, which is scheduled from 9:00 a.m. to 14:00 p.m.

 

The first general meeting was held in Copenhagen, the capital city of Denmark, from July 26 to 27 in 2003.  In the first meeting, EMC elected a General Secretary and coordinators in Denmark, Finland, Norway, Netherlands, and Sweden.

 

Mon delegates in Europe and the Mon National Democratic Front’s leader Nai Thaung Shein, an exiled MP based in the Netherlands, will attend the annual meeting.

 

The aim of the Euro-Mon Community is to strengthen unity and networking, to promote education, culture, and literature, and to coordinate with other Burmese ethnic nationalities as well as the international community.


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TALKS GIVE NEW HOPE FOR PROGRESS

(Larry Jagan: Bangkok Post:  05-04-2004)

 

There is growing evidence that Burma's military rulers and the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi may be on the verge of agreeing to work together on shaping the country's political future.  There are secret talks taking place between them on a regular basis, and the pro-democracy leader has been allowed to meet some of the other top leaders of her National League for Democracy in preparation for an agreement.

 

Burma's military leaders are also about to take the first step towards drawing up a new constitution by reconvening the National Convention next month after a nine-year adjournment. The National Convention is to draft the principles upon which the new constitution will be based. For the national reconciliation process to be credible, Ms Suu Kyi and the NLD would have to be involved.

 

Ms Suu Kyi is now almost certain to be released from house arrest within the next few weeks and the NLD allowed to re-open its offices across the country. The ``closed temporarily'' sign on the NLD headquarters in Rangoon has been removed, according to eye-witnesses. This seems to point to the fact that Burma's military rulers are preparing to allow the pro-democracy leader and her party to function normally -- all part of the deal that is being discussed between the two sides. ``It is now essential that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other NLD leaders are released immediately, party offices re-opened and that the NLD and other political parties and groups are able to operate freely,'' said a western diplomat in Rangoon on condition of anonymity.  These are all things that are now likely to happen in the coming weeks.

 

"Aung San Suu Kyi will be fully free, able to meet other members of her party, and conduct normal political activities before the National Convention convenes,'' Burmese Foreign Minister Win Aung told the Bangkok Post recently on the Thai island resort of Phuket.   "The NLD will also be allowed to re-open their offices before the convention gets under way.''   But for this to happen, it seems likely that the regime must have struck a deal with the opposition leader, or at least feel it is in the process of doing so.   "We are working on creating a good atmosphere between us,'' said Win Aung. ``Before we fought, now we talk.''

 

There is no doubt that Burma's rulers have been talking to her while she is still under house arrest. A delegation of three senior military representatives have been meeting Ms Suu Kyi once a month since December.  These are the deputy military intelligence chief, Major-General Kyaw Win, who is regarded as close to leader Senior General Than Shwe, Home Minister Tin Hlaing, a supporter of Prime Minister Khin Nyunt, and the military intelligence liaison officer, Brigadier-General Than Tun.

 

Both sides seem to be happy with the level of discussion during these monthly sessions.  "The talks have been frank and open,'' according to military intelligence sources, ranging from the government's fear that the opposition leader is a pawn of the West and Ms Suu Kyi's support for sanctions. The triumvirate is believed to have met Ms Suu Kyi in the past week or so, according to Rangoon-based diplomats.

 

"There must have been a deal struck during those talks on the NLD's participation in the National Convention,'' said a western diplomat who is responsible for relations with Burma.   "It is possible that she may also have sent a letter to Senior General Than Shwe pledging the NLD's commitment to the government's national reconciliation.'' But this is unlikely to be the case unless the government has promised to change the procedural rules of the National Convention and allow a free debate and discussion on the principles upon which the constitution is to be based.  This is something which has not happened previously as everything was tightly control by the government-appointed committee which oversaw the convention's proceedings. All speeches had to be submitted to the censors and no impromptu interventions from the floor were allowed.

 

If a deal is on the table, Ms Suu Kyi would want to discuss this with the rest of the NLD's central executive committee, several of whom are still under house arrest. And this is just what seems to be happening at the moment. At least one secret meeting between Ms Suu Kyi and some of the other NLD leaders has taken place, according to an Asian diplomat who closely follows developments in Burma.  They met around March 22. NLD officials are not prepared to reveal what was discussed at this meeting, and some continue to deny it even took place, so sensitive is the situation.

 

The next steps if a deal is to be struck may also involve Ms Suu Kyi meeting with the prime minister to seal any agreement that might have been reached between her and the military's negotiating team.  The opening of the NLD offices and the release of all the NLD leaders should also happen in the next few weeks if the regime is committed to involving Ms Suu Kyi and the NLD in the National Convention.  The announcement of the reconvening of the National Convention has caught most Rangoon-based diplomats and seasoned observers by surprise.  "The fact that it was announced on local television seems to suggest that it was aimed at the domestic constituency rather than posturing for the international audience,'' said an Asian diplomat in Rangoon. ``It also shows the SPDC [State Peace and Development Council] is taking the initiative and not allowing international pressure to dictate to them. It emphasises the importance of the National Convention in the national reconciliation process and that means Aung San Suu Kyi's release is less significant.''

 

While there have been growing signs in Rangoon over the past few weeks that the regime was preparing to release Ms Suu Kyi after the Water Festival celebrations for the Burmese New Year next week, there has been little evidence that the National Convention was to about to start its work any time soon.  It seems it may have been the strong urging of the Chinese deputy prime minister, Wu Yi, who has just completed a significant visit to Rangoon, that may have convinced Senior General Than Shwe to allow the prime minister to take the first real step in the government's road map to democracy.

 

"It is difficult to see how a constitution drafting process in which the participants are not free to discuss and debate issues, within their organisation and with the wider population, could be viewed as credible, or could lead to genuine national reconciliation,'' said a western diplomat in Rangoon. So while the announcement of the start of the National Convention on May 17 is another tentative step in General Khin Nyunt's national reconciliation process, its real significance will only emerge when the National Convention actually meets. Many diplomats in Rangoon fear that once the National Convention reconvenes it will then go into recess until after the rainy season.

 

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MOVE OVER, BAYINTNAUNG, SAY CEASEFIRE LEADERS

(Shan Herald Agency for News: March 29, 2004)

 

Childish ideas of today's elders are no longer relished by the new generation, writes a Shan author in Chit Kyi Ye (Unity Journal), a publication by the ceasefire groups.


"Books on Anawrahta, Alaungpaya and Bayintnaung are no longer in their favorite booklist," says Sai Naymin in his essay, New curriculum for the union. "Globalization has arrived, thereby eclipsing Nationalism. Greater Nation Chauvinism no longer works. The book we need to hold fast to in its stead is The art of co-existence."


Using the metaphor of a soccer event to explain the forthcoming National Convention, he says, "If the fully outfitted champion team does not allow its challengers even to wear football boots, it is not going to be a fair contest. We need fair play. And this match is being watched not only by spectators from a single village as before, but by the whole world."


The editorial also demands "a different kind of national convention", where freedom of expression, equal representation and participation of non-ceasefire groups are welcomed.


Another author, Min Ye Mon, also reminds its readers that the Middle East's roadmap, from which the word "roadmap" was borrowed, was not made up of "a mere 5-6 sentences" but drawn "thoroughly" down to the last detail.


The first issue of the Chit Kyi Ye journal, previously translated by S.H.A.N. as "Fraternity", was published in September 2003, and the second in December 2003.

 

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REFUGEE FIRE BOMBS GUT BURMA’S MALAYSIA EMBASSY

 

(Reuters: April 7, 2004)

 

KUALA LUMPUR -- Petrol bombs thrown by angry Myanmar (Burma) refugees gutted the country's embassy in the Malaysian capital on Wednesday, injuring several people.

 

"It's burned through the entire building," said a Reuters journalist, who added the two-story structure remained standing.

 

State news agency Bernama, citing security sources, said several people were injured in the attack.

 

A police source said Burmese Muslim Rohingyas threw at least two petrol bombs at the building, which witnesses at the scene said followed an argument with embassy staff. About a quarter-million Rohingya refugees have fled predominantly Buddhist Burmese saying they were persecuted under the military government.

 

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