Monday, June 22, 2009

North Korean ship headed to Burma

A North Korean ship being tracked by the US navy over suspicions that it is carrying arms in breach of new UN sanctions on the country is likely to be heading towards Burma, according to South Korean news sources.

The United States has been tracking the Kang Nam freighter ship since it left a North Korean port on Wednesday.

Under revamped UN sanctions on North Korea, which include a complete ban on arms imports and exports, ships suspected of carrying arms can be stopped and a request for a search made.

Yesterday a South Korean news agency, YTN, quoted unidentified intelligence sources as saying the ship was headed towards Burma, which is also subject to a US-enforced ban on arms imports.

According to journalist Bertil Lintner, if the YTN reports are true, this would be the second time the Kang Nam has been to Burma, following its docking at Rangoon’s Thilawar port in May 2007, allegedly to seek shelter from storm.

“It offloaded some heavy equipment, it’s not clear what it was, but the Kang Nam specifically is known to be carrying what the Americans usually describe as ‘material of proliferation concern’”, said Lintner.

The latest news follows the emergence of photographs earlier this month that allegedly show North Korean foreign advisors in Burma consulting with government officials on the construction of a tunnel network, likely as emergency shelters in the event of an attack.

Lintner, who revealed the North Korean tunnel project in the Yale Global, says that this is a sign that ties between the two countries are strengthening.

“Even China is reluctant to sell certain types of equipment to Burma but North Korea will be willing to sell anything they want,” he said, adding that “Burma has absolutely no interest in supporting an arms embargo”.

Given the arms embargo on Burma, it is unlikely the government there would comply with a UN resolution to allow the US to search ships docking at their ports.

North Korea, whose defense has been bolstered by the successful nuclear test, has said that interceptions of any of its ships would be considered an “act of war” and would react accordingly.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Burmese women’s groups pressured to cancel protest

by Nem Davies

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Two Burmese women’s organizations in the Indo-Burmese border town of Moreh were forced to cancel a planned protest rally to be held on Friday after authorities pressured the officer who had issued permission for the rally to cancel the authorization.

The Kuki Women’s Human Rights Organisation (KWHRO) and the Women’s League of Burma (WLB) sought permission from the Additional Deputy Commissioner (ADC) of Tengnoupal Subdivision of Moreh in India’s northeastern state of Manipur, bordering Burma, to hold a protest rally demanding the release of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on her 64th birthday on June 19.

Though the ADC gave permission, the women’s leaders said they were later persuaded by the ADC to cancel the plan.

“We already received permission on June 16. But this morning we were requested to cancel the plan,” Ngangai Haokip, a presidium board member of WLB told Mizzima.

She said the reasons for the request to cancel the plan were not officially declared, though the ADC had been pressured by his superiors to rescind the permission.

“The ADC was also pressured to ensure that we publish the cancellation of the program in the newspaper,” Ngangai added.

Earlier, the KWHRO, an ethnic Kuki women’s group working to promote the rights of women in Burma, and WLB, an umbrella Burmese women’s organization, planned to march through Moreh in protest against the continued detention of Burmese Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and the current trial against her.

The program was planned as part of the global action for commemoration of the detained Burmese pro-democracy leader’s 64th birthday, on June 19. On Friday, Burmese activists and supporters across the world are set to hold prayer meetings, protest rallies, solidarity concerts and speeches in honor and solidarity with the Burmese democracy icon.

But Ngangai said the program in Moreh had been rescheduled to a simple and small cake-cutting ceremony to mark the occasion

Pressure from the ADC on the women’s groups to cancel their program came after the Imphal-based online Hueiyen News Service published a critical article on June 17 questioning the authority of the ADC to grant permission to protest to foreign organizations.

The article, entitled “How can an ADC permit foreigners to hold protest rally at Moreh?”, points out that allowing Burmese activists to protest in Moreh could provoke Burma’s military junta and eventually jeopardize diplomatic ties between India and Burma.

“With Moreh, being a town bordering Myanmar [Burma], any activity such as an open protest rally held there aimed at criticizing the ruling junta in Myanmar [Burma] is bound to certainly provoke the junta,” the article argued.

While it is still unknown who pressured the ADC to alter the original ruling, Ngangai speculated, “Now the ADC is worrying for his life and position after having originally given permission.”

Meanwhile, observers in Moreh conjectured pressure by Manipuri militants on the behest of the Burmese military could be behind the reversal of fortunes, as several Manipuri armed groups, including the United National Liberation Front (UNLF), reportedly benefit from close relationships with the Burmese military, even maintaining bases on Burmese soil.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

YMA Day was celebrated all over India

YMA Day was celebrated all over Mizoram on June 15, 2009. Mizos in other parts of the country also celebrated the Day. The highlight of the programmes included help rendered to the needy persons, cleanliness drive, plantation of trees, sports, entertainments and encouragement of the people and the youth in particular to revive the culture and good ethos of the Mizos. Functions were held by the YMA Branches in their respective localities and villages. Social gathering were also organized in many localities in which the speakers underlined the need to revive the traditional respect to elders, courage, honesty and truthfulness in life. In Aizawl many branches organized social work in the morning and cleaned the street and the drains. Sports and entertainment programmed were also organized in the day time. In Durtlang Leitan, the Branch YMA members constructed a house for Pu Lianzuala by donating money and building materials. About 450 members constructed a new Assam type house measuring 18 into 12 feet. In Tuikhuahtlang, 43 YMA members donated blood for the patients in Presbyterian Hospital in Durtlang and their blood was drawn by the blood bank official in the Branch YMA hall. In Armed Veng, a function was held to honor winners of the first prize in YMA Athletic meet 2009. Addressing the function, Central YMA Vice President, Mr. Lalchungnunga stressed the need to revive good ethos and manners of the Mizos. He also asked the people particularly the youth to start reformation in their respective families.

In Saiha, the Day was celebrated by organizing sports in Saiha District Playground. Undertaking tour to the rural areas, the Group YMA leaders also attended function in the villages. In Tuipang V, the Branch YMA constructed a house for Pi Lalramliani by collecting donations from kind hearted persons. In Lunglei, World Blood Donation Day was also observed the Day along with celebration of YMA Day. In a blood donation camp organized jointly by Association for Blood Donation, Mizoram State Aids Control Society and the Presbyterian Church of Venglai, a number of youths donated blood for patients in Lunglei Civil Hospital. Two selected record makers in blood donation were also honored in this function. In Kolasib, the YMA constructed a house for Pi Thuami of Venglai by donating building materials and money. A large number of volunteers participated in the house construction. Some Branches also organized exhibition by collecting old and tradition tools and implements which have become rare in Mizo society. In Lawngtlai, Serchhip, Champhai and Mamit the Day was celebrated to benefit the society and the poor people

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Suu Kyi trial adjourned till Jun 26

A young supporter of Myanmar's Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Photo Courtesy: AP.
A young supporter of Myanmar's Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Photo Courtesy: AP.

The trial of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was adjourned on Friday for two weeks so defence lawyers can call an additional witness who will testify that the case is politically motivated, a lawyer said.

The District Court trying Suu Kyi told lawyers of the postponement until June 26 during a brief hearing on Friday at Insein Prison, where the trial is taking place, said Nyan Win, one of Suu Kyi's attorneys.

Suu Kyi is charged with violating the terms of her house arrest when an uninvited American man swam secretly to her closely guarded lakeside home last month and stayed two days.

The hearing has drawn outrage from the international community and Suu Kyi's local supporters, who say the military government is using the bizarre incident as an excuse to keep the pro-democracy leader detained through next year's elections.

If convicted, the 63-year-old Nobel Peace laureate faces up to five years in prison. She has been detained under house arrest for more than 13 of the last 19 years.

It is widely expected that Suu Kyi will be found guilty because courts in Myanmar are known for handing out harsh sentences to political dissidents. No new date was immediately set for closing arguments, which were originally scheduled for June 1.

Friday's postponement was expected after Suu Kyi's lawyers won an appeal earlier this week to reinstate one defence witness - Khin Moe Moe, a lawyer and member of her National League for Democracy party.

"Daw Khin Moe Moe knows all the charges against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi are political and she would testify based on these facts," Nyan Win said. "Daw" is a term of respect.

Suu Kyi's lawyers have filed a second appeal with the High Court to bring back two other witnesses - both senior members of her opposition party.

The District Court trying Suu Kyi had initially rejected the three defence witnesses - leaving Suu Kyi with a sole witness.

All three would argue that Suu Kyi is not a threat to the "peace and tranquility of the state," said Nyan Win, citing the provision of the 1975 law authorities had used for her continued detention.

Suu Kyi told her lawyers she believes the case against her is "politically motivated" but that it wouldn't stop her from continuing her fight for democracy, Nyan Win said Thursday.

"She said she is engaged in politics due to her political belief and commitment," Nyan Win said. "She would not be doing politics if she were afraid of the consequences."

Suu Kyi's party won the country's last elections in 1990 but was not allowed to take power by the military, which has run the country since 1962.

Malaysia transit point for asylum seekers

Malaysia has become a transit point for illegal migrants seeking refugee status in Australia.
Malaysian government sources say enforcements agencies are currently in talks with their Australian counterparts to find ways of reducing people trafficking.
Asylum seekers from Pakistan and Afghanistan are paying large sums of money to Malaysian traffickers to smuggle them into Australia.
Presenter: Desmond Ang Speakers:
Dr Amanullah Jayhoon, Afghanistan Ambassador to Australia; Kay Shan from Amnesty International
Listen: Windows Media
ANG: The road to asylum in Australia is, apparently, paved through Malaysia. Malaysia's Ministry of Home Affairs say since the start of the year, Pakistani and Afghan asylum seekers have travelled to Malaysia - to find illegal human traffickers who can smuggle them into Australia.
JAYHOON: It's a difficult situation. They were brought to Malaysia and Indonesia and they were stuck there. They would say that when they get to Australia or some other places they would be in a better position.
ANG: Afghanistan Ambassador to Australia Dr Amanullah Jayhoon says in some situations, refugees were deceived by traffickers.
JAYHOON: Some of the smugglers have vanished and some of them have been brought to Malaysia for the hope of sending them to Europe and that they were stuck in Malaysia.
ANG: The Home Ministry says refugees arrive in Malaysia on tourist visas, then enter Indonesia illegally, from where they are then smuggled into Australia. But their journey is perilous aboard vessels ill-equipped for the choppy waters. Malaysian maritime authorities estimate at least 12 people have drowned in the past 2 months in Malaysia's waters.
JAYHOON: When we see the tragedies, boat which was exploded, boats in Malaysia where Afghans have been drowned, causing a lot of tragedies and therefore we need a lot of cooperation in arresting these culprits and bring them into justice.
ANG: Malaysian officials say Indonesians, Afghan and Pakistani refugees form the bulk of immigrants caught trying to cross the border into Indonesia. The illegal immigrants are believed to have paid human traffickers in their home countries, who then arrange tourist visas for them. Kay Shan from Amnesty International.
SHAN: Definitely this makes the situation worse in terms of migrant refugee's rights because they're fleeing for their safety against a particular abuser or prosecution from their country and then they come to a third country and then again they're subjected to another form of torture or even exploitation. I think then again right from the beginning to the end they continue to suffer human rights violation, this is another form of human rights violation that the government should be prepared to look into.
ANG: NGOs in Malaysia know very little about these human trafficking scams, but Kay Shan feels this could be due to Malaysia's foreign policy.
SHAN: We believe theres a lot of cases out there where people are leaving voluntarily, secretly from Malaysia to Indonesia because the neighbouring country's close and definitely to other countries like Australia. I think it exists because when they come into Malaysia they come into a vacuum where they lose their rights and their freedom to move and protection, that's why they have to find a way out .
ANG: Mr Shan says Malaysia does not recognise refugees.
He says anyone caught entering Malaysia illegally is deported or placed in a detention centre. Malaysia has stepped up patrols along its coast recently - deploying helicopters, boats and an aircraft in response to the increase in illegal immigrants.

Monday, June 8, 2009

SM Goh to visit Myanmar

By Goh Chin Lian

SENIOR Minister Goh Chok Tong will make an official visit to Myanmar from Monday

Myanmar Prime Minister General Thein Sein will host him to lunch during his four-day trip.

SM Goh will use the visit to update himself on developments in Myanmar. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

(ST) -He will also call on the country's top leader, Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council Senior General Than Shwe.

His visit is at the invitation of General Thein Sein, the Prime Minister's Office here said in a statement on Sunday.

General Thein Sein had extended the invitation during his introductory visit to Singapore in March this year, the PMO added.

Mr Goh, who last visited Myanmar in 1998, will use the visit to update himself on developments in the country, said the statment.

He will visit the administrative capital of Nay Pyi Taw, as well as the cities of Yangon, Mandalay and Taunggyi, to better understand developments in other parts of Myanmar, it added.

He will also open a hospital in Kayin Chaung village, two hours' away from Yangon. The hospital was recently completed with Singapore's help as part of its post-Cyclone Nargis recovery aid to Myanmar.

The cyclone hit Myanmar in May last year and killed about 140,000 people across the country.

Mr Goh will be accompanied by Manpower Minister Gan Kim Yong, Mr Michael Palmer, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Defence and Foreign Affairs, as well as senior officials.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Burmese Army extorts money from vehicle owner

Burmese Army extorts money from vehicle ownersJune 5 : The Burmese Army has been extorting money from vehicle owners in Falam town and other parts of the township including Tibil village. This has come in the way of villagers selling their chilies in Mizoram.
Vehicle owners are reluctant to operate their service, affecting the sale of the local produce - chilies.
According to sources the authorities of the Burmese Army’s LIB 268 based in Tibual collect between Kyat 30,000 to 50,000 per service vehicle plying between Falam town, Chin state to the Tibil border area of Mizoram state in India. Vehicle owners are reluctant to operate their service, affecting the sale of the local produce -- chilies.
"Traders hire a vehicle for Kyat 4 lakhs a trip. And the army collects Kyat 50,000 per vehicle.  The vehicle driver has to pay Kyat 30,000 and the handyman has to pay Kyat 10,500. Besides the owners have expenses like vehicle tax, vehicle maintenance and diesel. We cannot make much profit so we do not want to ply our vehicles," said a vehicle owner.
Most people in these 50 villages grow chili as their source of income and they sell it to Mizoram state, India during summer. They can produce 5 lakhs tins of chili annually.
"With the rainy season approaching we can't hire any vehicle. Our chilies are getting moist. It is our source of income and we are totally dependent on it. After selling chilies we buy rice and can pay children's school fees," said a local.
Similarly, the LIB 266 based in Vuangtu and Lungler also collect Kyat 500 per tin of chili produced in Than Tlang township, Chin state.
"We have been carrying chilies to Mizoram on horseback. The military collects Kyat 500 per tin of chili on the way. We do not get permission to go without paying what they demand," said a local farmer.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

CNF urges US to have Suu Kyi released

Khonumthung News, June 3 - The Chin National Front (CNF) has dispatched a seven-point statement to the US government on June 2, which includes the demand for the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The CNF has been fighting the Burmese military junta for 20 years for democracy and a federal state in Burma.

In the statement the CNF has requested the government of the United States of America to take note of the following recommendations for its policy review which are - to continue targeted sanctions and arms embargo; to keep on pushing for the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners; to appoint a Special Envoy to Burma in order to build political support and momentum necessary for multi-party talks; to take a lead role in bringing China, India and ASEAN to support the commencement of political dialogue in Burma; to endeavour bringing the Burma issue to the UN Security Council till a legal binding resolution is passed; to provide financial assistance to Burmese democracy movement particularly for the activities of ethnic the armed resistance groups, and to give humanitarian and financial assistance for victims of the food crisis in Chin State and western Burma.

Besides, the CNF has strongly opposed the forthcoming 2010 general elections as it feels it cannot eradicate political and economic crisis in Burma. It will only provide legitimacy to the present military dictatorship. Only a tripartite dialogue can pave the way for durable peace in Burma.

In its statement CNF has urged the US government to take note of the human rights violations, growing narcotics and human trafficking, religious persecution, food crisis in Chin state due to bamboo flowering and the political imbroglio in the country, which are no longer seen just as domestic issues, but rather as a threat to international peace and security and a matter of serious concern for both regional states and the international community.

The CNF has especially requested the US government to take immediate action and to push the military regime in Burma to release Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.

The statement said that the Chin National Front (CNF) was formed on 20 March, 1988. CNF is not only a member of the National Council of the Union of Burma but also the National Democratic Front, which has been fighting the military regime for 33 years. The CNF is the armed group of the Chin people and represents the Chin people in the international political arena.

Malaysia denies Burmese human trafficking

by Usa Pichai

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - Malaysia has refuted US accusations that thousands of deported Burmese migrants were handed over to human traffickers in Thailand, while more migrants crossed over to Thailand, after the announcement of the new round of migrant worker’s registration.

Malaysian Home Ministry Secretary General Mahmood Adam said that the officials have found no evidence to support the claim. "The government had already initiated a few internal investigations, but it's baseless," the Associated Press quoted him as saying on Tuesday.

Human trafficking of Burmese migrants also sparked the debate between the Malaysian government and US lawmakers in April. The U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations said in a report made public in April that illegal Myanmar migrants deported from Malaysia were forced to work in brothels, fishing boats and restaurants across the border in Thailand if they had no money to buy their freedom.

The report was based on a year long review by committee staff who spoke to migrants from military-ruled Myanmar, also known as Burma, and human rights activists.

According to the Senate Committee report, "a few thousand" Burmese migrants in recent years might have become victims of extortion and trafficking once they were deported across Malaysia's northern border with Thailand.

The U.N. refugee agency has registered 47,600 refugees living in Malaysia as of the end of March of whom 42,300 are from Burma.

Meanwhile, many more migrants from Burma have crossed the border illegally in search of work in Thailand. But a local NGO worker in Ranong border town warned that it is dangerous for the workers for they could be cheated by the human traffickers and sent to work in dangerous jobs such as in the fishing sector without pay.

“The incident where 54 Burmese died in frozen container truck last year is a serious tragedy. Even though, authorities arrested six of the eight suspects, this kind of incident should not happen again, ” the source said.

“Recently, the Thai government announced that it will open migrant registration this year for work in businesses where there is labour shortage. This would help more people from Burma to find work opportunities in Thailand,” the source added.

Ranong is a border town close to Kawthong township in Burma, where around 100,000 people are from Burma. In addition, it is the gateway for migrants who want to work down south of Thailand.

Last week, Thai authorities in Mae Sot border with Myawaddy township of Burma tried to stop two trucks suspected to be transporting illegal workers. The trucks met with an accident and careened off the road. The policed found 28 undocumented Burmese migrants with minor injuries. They were later deported to Burma but the drivers of the trucks fled.

Burmese army returns child soldiers

(DVB)–The Burmese army has reportedly handed eight child soldiers back to their families in a ceremony in Rangoon attended by international monitoring bodies such as UNICEF and Save the Children.

The ceremony, reported in the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper, was conducted by the army-run Work Committee for Prevention against Recruitment of Minors, whose stated aim is to find and demobilise child soldiers in the military.

“We think this is a positive step by the army, and it was the first time we were invited to such an event,” said a spokesperson from UNICEF in Burma, who have been monitoring use of child soldiers in the country.

In 2002, Human Rights Watch named Burma’s ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) as the world’s leading recruiter of child soldiers.

The problem however is not confined to the government, with several of the armed opposition groups, including the Karen National Union, believed to also recruit child soldiers.

Use of child soldiers contravenes even Burmese domestic law, and has been cited by former senior legal adviser to the International Criminal Court (ICC), Morten Bergsmo, as a reason for bringing Burma’s ruling general, Than Shwe, to trial at the ICC.

Similarly, a report released last month by the Harvard Law School said that the situation for Burma’s child soldiers warranted significant attention from the UN Security Council.

“I think it [the ceremony] is about pretending that they’re actually doing something rather than really taking all the reforms that need to be taken,” said David Mathieson, Burma analyst at Human Rights Watch.

“If they’re releasing eight children, then great for those eight children, but that’s not all of them and a lot more needs to be done before the problem goes away,” he said, adding that the SPDC were looking for “congratulation” on the issue.

“But when it comes to the rights of the child you should never get congratulations for something like that because it never should have happened in the first place,” he said.

Reporting by Francis Wade

Monday, June 1, 2009

It's incumbent upon Thailand to lead Asean on Burma

By Kavi Chongkittavorn

AFTER THE ASEAN CHARTER came into force on December 15 2008, members were obliged to follow objectives, principles and norms set forth in the document. These include the promotion and protection of human and other fundamental rights. What the Burmese regime has done against the opposition of Aung San Suu Kyi and its other citizens is not part of Asean's standards or practices.

Before the charter's drafting, it was customary for Asean members to defend their colleagues to ensure continued unity. As a regional organisation, Asean also protected members from outsider pressures and scrutiny. Under such conditions, the principle of non-interference was the mantra to glue Asean together and silence criticisms from within. Even before Burma joined Asean in 1997, the grouping was providing the most effective shield to the regime - first as an Asean observer (1995) and a signatory to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (1996) - over Burma's preponderance for using force against its own people. The East-West divide also augmented Asean's determination to admit Burma, despite repeated warnings of the consequences.

During the deadly Depayin incident in May 2003, when Suu Kyi was almost killed by junta-sponsored thugs, Asean leaders were uncharacteristically silent. At the summit in Phnom Penh six months later, the Asean leaders gave a vote of confidence to the newly appointed Burmese prime minister Lt General Khin Nyunt, hoping he could lead changes from the inside. Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra also backed the new leader saying Burma deserved a second chance. In October 2004, Khin Nyunt was purged from power and placed under house-arrest.

Now Asean has shown some backbone in handling Burma's situation and the plight of Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as with its Western dialogue partners, after Asean gained the charter. The Asean chair's statement calling for her release was the strongest ever from a country with which it shares one of the longest common borders in Southeast Asia.

At the Asean-EU Ministerial meeting in Phnom Penh last week, the Asean foreign ministers, except Burma, expressed strong support for the chair's statement. The Asean leaders are anxious to meet Burmese Prime Minister General Thein Sein on the side-lines of the Asean-South Korea Commemorative Summit scheduled today and tomorrow in Cheju Island, South Korea to gauge the regime's latest attitude.

In engaging the dialogue partners over Burma, Asean used to be insecure and easily angered whenever criticism or disagreements came to the fore.

Throughout the past two decades, Asean was often up in arms against the West's criticism defending Burma's record and the decision to admit the pariah state into the family. Now, it is a different story.

For instance, joint statements from the Asean-Asem and Asean-EU ministerial meetings issued last week in Hanoi and Phnom Penh respectively would not have been possible without the new Asean attitude. It was a far-cry from the atmosphere of earlier Asean-EU ministerial meetings, especially after the May 1990 polls; the two sides often traded insults and blamed each other for lack of understanding of their distinctive political environment and cultures. Burma is no longer a wedge, albeit remaining a problem, dividing Asean and EU as they see eye to eye that Burma needs to open up political space, support the UN role, free all political prisoners and hold inclusive elections.

The EU has in recent months become one of the most enthusiastic Asean dialogue partners, collectively and individually. Last week, the EU became the first regional organisation to sign a protocol to accede to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation which now boasts 17 signatories, apart from the 10-member Asean. TAC was amended to allow EU ascension as an entity. Nearly half the 27 members have already appointed their ambassadors attached to Asean.

Asean can now ponder how best to tackle the current Burmese situation. First of all, the Asean leaders have to determine if the current trial of Suu Kyi and political oppression inside Burma are considered a serious breach of the Asean charter. This is a tough but unavoidable question as it will set a precedence for the grouping's own future.

Asean Secretary-General Dr. Surin Pitsuwan's role will also be crucial in interpreting the charter. Indonesia's draft of the joint Asean statement on Burma, which was diluted by the new Asean members in Phuket last month, specifically linked the charter with Burma's intransigence. Jakarta's position was clear that it was a breach of the charter and Rangoon failed to take up collective responsibility as part of the Asean family. The other five core Asean members including Brunei were on the same page.

As the grouping's leading democracy, Indonesia can urge the Thai chair to put the Burmese issue on the agenda of the upcoming summit to work out appropriate responses.

Indonesia, as the country that initiated drafting of the Asean Charter, feels that the charter must be taken seriously both in words and spirit, otherwise Asean's future and creditability are at stake. Protecting the charter and giving it teeth is a priority shared by Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.

The second approach would be the initiative of the Thai chair. To take Burma to task, the government must be firmer on overall Thai-Burma relations. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya must not abandon the much respected Burmese policies of their predecessors from 1997-2001. To do so, Thailand urgently needs to review ties with Burma and design a new and more comprehensive policy that lessens dependence on Burma's energy and resources-based imports.

Thai-Burmese border security, which has been neglected for the past several years, must be beefed up. Quite often, when the junta leaders faced a continuous international community bombardment, they would pick on Thailand to rally domestic support.

At the Asean summit in Laos in 2004, Burma skipped the Asean chairmanship due to sustained outside pressure both from Asean and the EU. But this time, the outcries over Suu Kyi's trial were louder and broader in every way. Parliamentarians from Asean countries recommended suspension of its membership.

It is incumbent on the chair to call for a meeting among the leaders on the issue.

Suspension of Burma's rights and privileges within Asean is possible if Rangoon remains defiant and Suu Kyi continues to be held. For the membership's suspension, it would require extraordinary courage for the chair as well as the leaders of core Asean members to kick off the debate.

Either approach gives life and blood to the charter, which will set the future yardstick for compliance.

Burmese Army on High Alert After Unidentified Reconnaissance Plane Spotted

Buthidaung (Narinjara), Jun 2 : The Burmese army in the Buthidaung cantonment has been put on high alert after an unidentified reconnaissance plane was spotted taking photos of military bases in the area last week, said a source close to the army.

The source said, "An unidentified reconnaissance plane flew over Buthidaung last week secretly snapping photos but the authorities knew a plane intruded into Burma's airspace on that day."

After the incident took place, high army authorities put security forces in the area on high alert.

The town of Buthidaung, 80 miles north of Sittwe, is the largest military base in western Burma, with at least 15 army battalions, including an artillery battalion, stationed there. A brigade, called Sakakha 15 in Burmese, and the military operation planning bureau are also stationed in the area.

The source reported that a military official said, "The Burmese army officials suspect the reconnaissance plane was from the US Air Force, but have not officially disclosed that this happened."

The Burmese military authorities in the area are anxious about the unidentified plan intruding into their territory.

It has also been learned that Kha Kha Kyi, the defense bureau in Burma's new capital Naypyidaw, also knew of the incident and some high technical officials from the air defense force have been sent to Buthidaung to investigate the incident.

Burma Locked Out of Region’s Prosperity, Says GatesBurma Locked Out of Region’s Prosperity, Says Gates


Burma is “one of the isolated, desolate exceptions to the growing prosperity and freedom of the region,” according to US Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Gates made his comment at a security conference in Singapore, where Burma’s deputy defense minister, Maj-Gen Aye Myint, tried to deflect criticism of his government and its latest action against opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Burma’s state-run-newspaper The New Light of Myanmar reported on Monday that Aye Myint told the conference that Suu Kyi’s trial in Rangoon was an internal Burmese affair.

“Thus, if any country interferes in the internal affairs of another country, that particular act may possibly affect the mutual understanding and friendly relation between countries,” he said.

Gates, however, repeated calls for Suu Kyi’s release. He said, “We need to see real change in Burma—the release of political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and the institution of meaningful dialogue between the junta and the opposition.”

Gates said, “We saw Burma's resistance to accept basic humanitarian aid last year following the cyclone, a decision indicative of that country's approach to the rest of the world.”

The Singapore conference, the 8th Shangri-La Dialogue, organized by the city-state’s International Institute for Strategic Studies, brought together defense ministers or their deputies from 27 countries. The situation in Burma and the trial of Suu Kyi were raised by several participants, despite Aye Myint’s objections.

Burma is facing mounting international pressure, also from within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

At an Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) of foreign ministers in Phnom Penh last week, Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win opposed any consideration of the Burma issue, complaining that the gathering “has overlooked the important issue of non-interference.”

Nyan Win declared, “This is an internal legal issue and it is not a human rights issue.”

Despite Nyan Win’s objections, ministers from the European Union and Asean discussed Suu Kyi’s trial and called on the Burmese government to free her and other political prisoners.

Burma’s traditional allies, China and India, are also reportedly concerned about the impact of Suu Kyi’s trial.

The trial is also expected to be an issue at an Asean meeting in South Korea next week.

“Asean leaders will meet and discuss an issue that has received international attention —about a neighboring country—for further cooperation,” said Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, whose country is currently chairman of the regional grouping.

One human rights expert, Sriprapha Petcharamesree, of Bangkok’s Mahidol University said three Burmese issues—the junta’s response to Cyclone Nargis, refugees, Suu Kyi and other political prisoners—are real threats for the Asean Charter.