Free Burma Rangers > Report A Christmas Story Karen State, Burma

We walked into the hiding place after four days spent looking at Burma Army camps. The people in this hiding place site were all displaced earlier this year by one of the new camps we just photographed. The people here had been fleeing since the Burma Army first started their attacks in this area of Western Karen State in 1972. Since then, they have fled attacks many times. One 62 year old man told us he thought he had fled 500 times in his lifetime.

There were 17 families hiding here in a small ravine in a bamboo thicket. Their homes are small shacks made of bamboo and grass, some covered in tarps that our teams had given them earlier. There are two small water points where pieces of bamboo channeled the small flow of a little stream. Here the families can collect water and bathe. As we walked into the site, there was a plastic tarp spread on the ground, with children sitting on it, as one of the team led them in songs and games. Mothers and fathers stood behind, holding babies, smiling and laughing with their small huts right behind them. As we got closer, the team handed out presents for the children, and then the whole team sang a blessing song. It was a very moving melody, with powerful words about God being with us at all times. I felt very sad that the people had to live like this, but at the same time, I felt the more powerful emotion of love, hope and joy, as the team and the families bonded together. I thought, ‘ this is wonderful and the Burma Army probably wouldn’t believe it if they saw it’. Here are people that they are chasing who have lost so much, who are still smiling and singing and who haven’t given up.

I looked around the cluster of small huts, and smiling and happy people. I looked as the medics began to prepare for treatment and I thought, ‘this is a wonderful thing’. I felt satisfied. Not satisfied with the situation and the people in hiding, but satisfied that all of us at this site were happy together and that on this day, we would all eat well and sleep well. Later that same night other Karen from different displaced villages came to sing carols at the hide site. They went to every family’s house and sang. As we looked up at the stars and listened to the singing, I thought, “This really is Christmas.”

I want to thank all of you who pray for, love, and help these people, and all of you who help us here.

God bless you and Merry Christmas,
A relief team leader
Western Karen State, Burma

Monthly Report: Protecting their rice pots: an economic profile of trade and corruption in Three Pagodas Pass

Protecting their rice pots: an economic profile of trade and corruption in Three Pagodas Pass
December 22, 2008
I. Introduction
Control of the Three Pagodas Pass border crossing, which connects Burma’s Karen State to Thailand’s Kanchanaburi Province, has been actively contested for hundreds of years. Fighting was fierce and frequent through the 1990s, and disputes over the border’s exact demarcations persist. In the last decade, frequent border closures driven by conflict and politics have wreaked havoc on legal business in and through the pass. Today, many residents find themselves in dire economic circumstances, made worse by the global economic crisis.
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In spite of the border closures and economic troubles, the pass sees a consistent volume of cross-border trade. Much of this trade is illegal, both for its specific character and because the border remains officially closed. In nearly all cases, regime authorities, the military and armed ceasefire groups seek to profit from, and even participate in, border-based business activities. Everything is taxed, from the card games of truck drivers passing the time between loads to the hundreds of tons of illegally logged timber that enter the town every day. This should not be surprising, for government officials in Burma are among the most corrupt in the world. According to the latest ranking by the international corruption-monitoring group Transparency International, Burma’s corruption levels are second only to Somalia, a failed state with a barely functioning government.
This report seeks to document the mostly illegal border trade through Three Pagodas Pass, who profits from allowing it to proceed, and by how much. The first section presents a short background on the area and some of the key actors, as well as a detailed description of common trade routes and their attendant checkpoints. The next section is an economic profile, which provides details on the largest sectors of the border trade including timber, minerals, agricultural products and livestock, drugs, migrant labor and goods from Thailand. Information on gambling and prostitution in Three Pagodas Town is also included because, though the activities remain local, they are inextricably linked to the border trade and corruption of area officials. Finally, the report concludes with analysis of the human rights impacts of the cross border trade and related official corruption.
The information in the report is based upon 82 targeted interviews conducted by HURFOM during December, as well as the invaluable knowledge of a number of field reporters each with close to ten years experience living and researching in the area. It should be stressed, however, that the illegal nature of most of the activities in this report means the prices for taxes and fees are rarely based upon a consistent or codified government policy. They are, subsequently, highly variable and subject to modification based upon factors including the security situation, the relationship between the payer and authorities, and the relative economic appetites of particular officers and officials. In most cases, prices are presented as a range between the highest and lowest numbers documented by HURFOM. In cases where the amount quoted is related to either an estimate or a single incident or source, that source is referenced.

II. Background
A. Contested territory

The Thai-Burma border is over 2,000 kilometers long. Though the border is highly porous, it is also mountainous and home to only four official border crossings, which mark the easiest routes for trade between the countries. Three Pagodas Pass served as the crossing point for the armies of Mon and Burman kings for hundreds of years until British colonialism. During World War II, another invading army – this time Japanese – used it, and the area is still home to the defunct tracks of the infamous “death railway” linking the River Kwae in Kanchanaburi to Thanbyuzayat, near the Andaman Coast in Mon State. In modern history, armed ethnic insurgent groups, chiefly the Karen National Union (KNU) and the New Mon State Party (NMSP), controlled the crossing through the 1980s. The pass was a lucrative asset for the groups, for basic goods were in short supply due the failed “Burmese Way to Socialism” and smuggling was big business. Profits from the trade helped fund the anti-government insurgent efforts, but they also created tensions between ostensibly allied groups. In a tragically timed conflict in 1988, for 27 days in August the KNU and NMSP fought for control of the pass. Their timing coincided almost exactly with the “8-8-88 uprising,” and meant that two of Burma’s largest armed opposition groups shooting each other at virtually the same moment Burma’s military was shooting hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy protesters. In February 1990, an offensive of 1,000 SPDC troops overran the pass.

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Junta-backed National Unity Party (NUP) is confident it will win the upcoming 2010 elections, according to a reliable source from Mon State.

On 1 May 2007, the party held a meeting at Moulmein, capital of Mon State. About 500 people attended the meeting, said the source.

“We, the NUP, will contest the elections. I certainly believe we will win because there is no party that is stronger than us now,” a source quoted Maj-Gen Tun Yee, the NUP leader, as saying.

He said the National League for Democracy (NLD) that won the 1990 elections could do nothing as its leader Daw Aung San Su Kyi is still under house arrest.

“The NLD is like a head without a body now. And the ethnic parties are only interested in their own states. So I am confident that we will win. If we are not confident, we won’t hold the elections,” he said.

“The reason we failed in the 1990 elections was because people were still bitter about the 1988 unrest. However, we are ready now,” he recalled.

In addition, the party has Kyat 100 million campaign fund, according to party sources.

Some Burmese analysts are saying that the ethnic groups will not have much chance either, as the NUP and the transformed Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) are bound to win most of the seats in addition to the military’s 25 % quota provided by the constitution.

On the other hand, the ethnic groups are still undecided whether to enter the elections or not, according to sources.

“We have yet to decide anything,” said a senior officer from the National Democratic Alliance Army-Eastern Shan State (NDAA-ESS), known officially as Shan State Special Region #4, led by Sai Leun.

Japan-Mekong exchange year to be launched in Myanmar

YANGON, Dec. 25 (Xinhua) — A Japan-Mekong exchange year will be launched in Myanmar’s former capital Yangon early next February to showcase the cooperation and friendship between Japan and Myanmar, one of the Mekong River valley countries, the local Biweekly Eleven News reported Thursday.

The opening ceremony on Feb. 6, 2009 will be attached with joint performance by Japanese and Myanmar artists to mark the event. The performance will involve that of Myanmar traditional musician U Hlaing Win Maung, the Japanese embassy was quoted as saying. In previous cultural exchange programs between Myanmar and Japan, Japanese film shows were held annually in Yangon and Mandalay in the past few years, introducing Japanese movies to Myanmar audiences which featured comedy, cartoon, romance, samuraiand detective.

Kachin Heroes 2008

Kachin Heroes 2008
Zau Shawng

Zau Shawng for his great services in organizing a series of anti-Burmese junta poster movements in Kachin state, we, the Kachin News Group (KNG) proudly honour Zau Shawng as a Kachin Hero of 2008.

Zau Shawng is a Kachin student leader of All Kachin Students’ Union (AKSU), an underground Kachin students’ organization based in Kachin state, northern Burma.

Kachin student leader Zau Shawng organised the students’ poster movement in Kachin state against the Burmese junta in 2008. He mainly organized several “anti-junta” students’ poster campaigns in the major cities of Kachin state like Myitkyina, Bhamo, Waingmaw, Shwego, Namti, Mogaung and Chibwe.

He also distributed hundreds of handouts against the junta-drafted constitution during the 60th anniversary of Kachin State on January 10, 2008. He also cleverly organized Kachin university students to join the poster campaigns.

The students’ poster campaigns demanded that the ruling junta:

1. Immediately conduct ‘Tripartite Dialogue’ between the ruling junta, democratic forces and
ethnic nationalities leaders.
2. Release all political prisoners unconditionally.
3. Reduce oil and food prices.
4. Stop land confiscation and Physic Nut (castor oil plant) plantation in Kachin state.
5. Stop dam project at the Mali-N’Mai Rivers’ Confluence called Mali-N’Mai Zup or Myitsone.
6. Eradicate drugs in Kachin state.
7. Stop human rights violations to Kachin people.

The students’ poster campaigns encouraged people in Kachin state to:

1. Oppose the junta-held national convention on drafting the country’s new constitution.
2. Stamp ‘No votes’ to the May 10, 2008 Referendum on a new constitution drafted by the junta.
3. Oppose the dam project at the Mali-N’Mai Rivers’ Confluence called Mali-N’Mai Zup or Myitsone.

Duwa Galau Bawm Lang

For his strong commitment on wanting to achieve self-determination for Kachin State and a federal union in Burma. We proudly award him the title of a Kachin Hero of 2008.

Duwa Galau Bawmg Lang is a party leader of the Kachin State National Congress for Democracy (KNCD). The party won three seats in Kachin state in the 1990 general elections in Burma. Duwa Galau Bawmg Lang was voted representative of Chibwe Township east of Kachin state during the elections.

As a KNCD leader, he stood for a black and white policy for Kachin people in the countrywide May 10, 2008 referendum on a new Burmese constitution drafted by the ruling junta and showed his disapproval of a new constitution. He completely opposed the junta-centric constitution and conducted campaigns to disapprove the new constitution. On the day of the referendum, he went out to the polling station in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin state and voted ‘No’ though he was closely watched by military authorities.

Currently, Duwa Bawm Lang clearly declares that his party will not contest the 2010 elections in Burma because the junta’s constitution does not guarantee a federal union in the country.

Duwa Bawm Lang often discusses with other ethnic leaders in the Burma-based United Nationalities Alliance (UNA) for a federal union of Burma.

UPDATE 1-Daewoo seals Myanmar-China gas export deal – Xinhua

Adds 30-year contract in first and sixth paragraph)

BEIJING, Dec 25 (Reuters) – A Myanmar gas consortium led by South Korea’s Daewoo International (047050.KS) has signed a 30-year agreement to sell natural gas to China, China’s Xinhua news agency said on Thursday.

Under the agreement, which cements a preliminary deal in June, China’s top state oil and gas firm China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC), will buy gas from the Shwe field in Myanmar’s A-1 offshore block, which has reserves of 4-6 trillion cubic feet (113-170 billion cu metres), Xinhua said.

CNPC is the parent of listed PetroChina (0857.HK)(601857.SS).
Daewoo has 51 percent in the consortium, the China National United Oil Corporation (CNUOC). The other shareholders are India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC.BO) with 17 percent, India’s GAIL (GAIL.BO) with 8.5 percent, Korea Gas Corp (036460.KS) with 8.5 percent and Myanmar Oil & Gas Enterprise with 15 percent.

CNPC and Myanmar Oil & Gas Enterprise plan to build oil and gas pipelines through Myanmar and into China’s southwestern Yunnan province, bypassing the long journey around the Malacca Strait for oil cargoes and solving the problem of getting the gas to market, Chinese media have reported. [ID:nPEK331703]

Myanmar will also be able to tap the pipeline running across its territory to promote economic development once the gas starts flowing, which is expected to happen in 2013, Xinhua said.

Few western companies will invest in the former Burma because of its poor human rights record and continued detention of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, which has led to a broad range of U.S. and European sanctions.

China, typically wary of supporting or imposing sanctions and one of Myanmar’s few diplomatic allies, has shown no qualms about investing in its neighbour, eager for its natural gas, oil, minerals and timber to feed a booming economy.

Daewoo said last year it had picked China as a preferred bidder for natural gas from a project in Myanmar, putting it at the front of a queue that also includes India and Thailand.

The Daewoo consortium also has gas reserves estimated at 5 trillion cubic feet in the A-1 block’s Shwephyu field and 2 million tcf in the Mya field in the A-2 block, with a combined proven reserve of 5.7-10 tcf, Xinhua said, citing experts.

Myanmar produced 7.62 million barrels of crude oil and 13.393 BCM of gas in the fiscal year 2007-08, according to Myanmar’s Central Statistical Organisation, Xinhua said.

Foreign investment in oil and gas tripled in 2008 to $474 million and accounted for 90 percent of foreign investment, it said.

Myanmar rights abuse ‘condemned’

The UN General Assembly has condemned the ongoing human rights violations in Myanmar, and called on the government in Naypyidaw to stop conducting politically motivated arrests.

The resolution released on Wednesday was sponsored by the US, Australia, South Korea, Israel and many other European countries, and was approved by a vote of 80 to 25, with 45 abstentions.

It also called on the country’s military government to free all detainees and political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, the prominent opposition leader and head of the National League for Democracy (NLD).

Japan’s action on Burma changes Asia’s image (?)

(just only 30 Refugees)… By Nehginpao Kipgen, Contributor

Japan’s humanitarian decision on December 18, 2008 to accept refugees from the military-ruled Burma has significantly changed Asia’s image. The move, which is unprecedented in the history of Japan, conveys a message to the international community that there is a country in Asia that opens its doors to asylum-seekers and refugees.

Japan’s policy toward Burma has traditionally been engagement. This principle was stated in uncertain terms by the then-Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto to leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in January 1997 as: “Japan does not feel international isolation is the optimal way for improving the domestic situation in Myanmar.”Ryutaro also added that: “Japan thinks it important to give Myanmar incentives to behave in line with international norms by drawing it out as a member of the international community. Japan also thinks that Asean membership should not provide a smokescreen for oppression in Myanmar.”

NMSP vows to continue struggle as thousands of party members celebrate 50th Anniversary

Thousands of ethnic Mon people gathered yesterday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the New Mon State Party at a “Golden Jubilee” celebration held yesterday near Ye Town, southern Mon State. The celebration featured speeches from leaders in the Mon community and party, who vowed to continue the struggle for a federal union and ethnic rights.

At least 4,000 people attended the celebration, with party sources estimating that as many as 10,000 people were present.

“The party will join hands with other ethnic nationalities and the democracy movement in our continued struggle for a genuine federal union,” said party president Nai Htaw Mon in prepared statement presented in the Mon language yesterday morning.

A leader from the Mon National Democratic Front (MNDF) echoed this sentiment in another speech given on the same day. “We should join hands and struggle together. Then, we will archive our goals,” the MNDF leader said. The MNDF is made up of leaders elected to Parliament in the now-annulled 1990 election. Nai Hongsar, NMSP General Secretary, also presented a speech. read all

Fake Bank Notes on Thai -Burma Border Wa offers assistance in fake note scandal

A senior Wa official has promised full cooperation in the crackdown on Thai banknote forgers that reportedly originate from their own ranks.

25 December 2008

“We caught and punished Wei Hsaitang for forging Chinese and Thai banknotes in 2002,” he reminded S.H.A.N. “We will not protect anybody who is engaging in such inexcusable activities.”

Wei Hsaitang, former commander of Mongyawn, opposite Chiangmai’s Mae Ai district, was reportedly released only last year following increased tensions between the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and Nay Pyi Taw.

A local police informant on the Thai-Burma border, interviewed last evening by TV Channel 3, said the counterfeit notes were manufactured by the “Red Wa”, a popular term for the UWSA, and that each 1,000 baht note was sold at B 350 ($10). image_mini

Channel 9 also reported that Chinese-made machines for checking watermarks are in great demand in Maesai, opposite Burma’s Tachilek. It used to be priced at B250-300 each before the scandal, but since has jumped two-fold.

A Thai security official said, according to a report, the fake notes had entered Burma from China through Mongla, 240km north of Maesai. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that they were produced by the Wa,” he told SHAN. “But we cannot eliminate the possibility right now.”

Forgers face life imprisonment and fake note spenders 1-15 years in jail in Thailand, according to Bangkok Post, 23 December issue.