Press release The Islamic Development Bank Group to Support Rebuilding of Nargis-Destroyed Schools in Ayeyarwady Delta

A group of officers from the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) Group visited cyclone-affected
communities yesterday as part of the IDB’s plan to help build schools in the Ayeyarwady Delta
that were destroyed after Cyclone Nargis last year.
Headed by Country Projects Officer Samih Ahmad Faruqi, the IDB Group, assisted by its
implementing agency, Asian Resource Foundation, visited seven schools in the townships of
Kombu, Kunyangon, Dedaye, Oyapon, and Bogale. The IDB Group plans to donate
approximately US$300,000 to build five schools in the Delta to accommodate about 100 students
in each school.
In Bogale Township, accompanied by ASEAN Hub Officer and ASEAN volunteers, the Group
visited local communities to discuss the reconstruction of two schools in Khun Tee Chaung village
of Kyunnyo Village Tract and Tha Htay Gone village of Hayman Village Tract where ASEAN
volunteers are currently supporting a Tripartite Core Group pilot project[i]. The schools in the two
villages were almost destroyed but are still being used to accommodate about 400 students.
Sharing his view after visiting the Bogale Township, Mr Faruqi said, “Schools reconstruction
project is the first IDB supported emergency assistance project in Myanmar. After the successful
completion of this pilot project, the Special Assistance Office of IDB will consider funding support
for projects in education and health sectors at the community level.”
The IDB Group’s project will complement the current ASEAN Volunteer projects in order to
effectively address the needs of the community as recommended in the Periodic Review, which
emphasizes cross-sectoral assistance. continue

US Sanctions Taking Toll on Burmese Gems Industry

Mogok, the historic center of Burma’s gems industry, is struggling to cope with the effects of US sanctions targeting the country’s military rulers and their cronies, according to industry insiders.

A gem trader in Mogok told The Irrawaddy that at least 50 mine sites in the area have decreased production and several have closed completely since the US Congress approved a law restricting gem imports from Burma last July.

“Work at many gem sites has slowed down because it is becoming more difficult to export the gems now that they are on the sanctions list,” the trader said.

He added that many investors are reluctant to spend money to fuel earthmovers and other heavy equipment because they are no longer sure they will be able to sell the gems they find.

Although the sanctions are intended to block imports into the United States, other markets are also becoming less receptive to Burmese gems. According to traders, Thailand’s cross-border imports of precious stones from Burma have declined in recent months, and many Thai traders are now offering lower prices for the gems they buy.

Chinese traders have also become relatively scarce in Mogok.

“Even Chinese gem traders are not coming to Burma like they used to,” said one Burmese journalist who closely follows developments in the gems industry. “I think if the Chinese don’t come, there won’t be any gem auctions.”

Although the Burmese junta has continued to hold gem auctions in Rangoon, buying by international jewelers has dropped by at least 50 percent, according to jewelers in the city, who say that market prices across the country have also fallen by half.

Official statistics show that Burma exported US $647.53 million worth of gems in the fiscal year 2007-08. However, Burma’s gems production decreased from 7.178 million carats in the 2nd quarter of 2007 to 6.491 million carats in the 2nd quarter of 2008, according to The Economist Intelligence Unit.

In Burma, the gems industry is owned by the state, but since the 1990s, the government has allowed private investment through join-venture enterprises. But licenses are only granted to cronies of the ruling generals, including Tay Za, who runs Htoo Trading Co, and Ne Win Tun, of Ruby Dragon Jade & Gems Co Ltd.

In May 2008, former US President George W Bush issued an executive order putting three Burmese state enterprises—the Myanmar Gem Enterprise, Myanmar Timber Enterprise and Myanmar Pearl Enterprise—on a sanctions list.

Two months later, the US Congress approved the Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE (Junta’s Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act, which renewed a 2007 act restricting the import of gems from Burma and tightening sanctions on mining projects.

The law said that over 90 percent of the world’s ruby supply originates in Burma, but only 3 percent of the rubies entering the US are designated as being of Burmese origin.

According to Human Rights Watch, gems mined in Burma are first exported to countries such as Thailand or India to be cut and polished, and then exported to other countries around the world.

Prime markets for jewelry made with Burmese rubies are in the US, Europe and Japan. The highest quality and most expensive stones are exported to Switzerland for onward sale to other markets, the group said.

BURMA IS STILL ASEAN’S SHAME _Altsean report 17.02.

The Burmese military regime has not improved its behavior since the ASEAN Charter came into force on December 15, 2008. By intensifying repression in the past two months, the regime has directly attacked the integrity and credibility of ASEAN and its Charter. ASEAN is undermining itself by refusing to act against such serious violations.

read report

Summary of developments in the two months since the Charter was enacted:

• At least 432 people arrested and/or sentenced in 2008. In the first two months of the
Charter’s formal enactment, the SPDC arrested 17 activists – including 12 NLD members –
and sentenced 13 – including two NLD elected MPs – to prison terms. All-Burma
Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) member Bo Min Yu Ko was sentenced to 104
years in prison in connection with the September 2007 anti-junta protests.1 The junta also
extended the house arrest of NLD Deputy Chairman Tin Oo by another year.2
• Four political prisoners died in custody.3 In early January, the regime suspended prison
visitation rights for political prisoners for one month.4
• Over 1,000 Rohingya refugees left Burma and Bangladesh for Malaysia and Thailand by
boat.5 Of those, an estimated 538 boat people died at sea.6 SPDC consul-general in Hong
Kong Gen Ye Myint Aung said that Rohingya were as “ugly as ogres.”7
• Joint SPDC Army and the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army forces launched fresh
offensives against the Karen National Union in Karen State along the Thai-Burma border.8
• SPDC Army soldiers raped one woman in Kachin State and two children – one in Rangoon
and one in Pegu Division (raped and murdered).9
• Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) included Burma in its annual list of the “top ten”
humanitarian crises. MSF said that the SPDC’s healthcare system left the vast majority of
the people without access to healthcare.10 UNICEF said that Burma has 2nd highest child
mortality rate in Asia, with approximately 10% of all children not surviving past 5 years

Burma’s 2010 election: New election, old promises

Naing Ko Ko

Feb 19, 2009 (DVB)–An election in Burma is supposedly going to be held in 2010 by the elite generals. Within the half century from 1960 to 2010, it will be the second election held by the military.

Elections in Burma are precisely identical to scarce goods, with neither availability nor choice for the public. Since Burma became an independent state, it has had only three “democratic general elections” that were held in 1952, 1956 and 1960 respectively, all under the administration of the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League which ruled Burma for 10 years.
Within the 28 years from 1960 to 1988, unsurprisingly, there were no democratic general elections held by the Revolutionary Council or the Burma Socialist Programme Party that was formed after the first military coup. However, the BSPP ran a “synthetic election” as a totalitarian and bureaucratic mechanism in 1974. As the BSPP was a military-based-party, the election was absolutely managed by the party bosses and generals. The voters did not have any choice and were ordered to vote for both the single party system and “pioneer dictators”.
Although millions of people demanded democracy during the four-eights uprising, the military seized state power again on 18 September 1988 and branded itself the State Law and Order Restoration Council. The junta held its first ever multiparty democratic general election on 27 May 1990 and reappointed an election commission and promulgated a multiparty democracy election law that were both formulated by the BSPP regime during the “summer of democracy” in September 1988.
There were more than two thousand candidates from 93 political parties who stood in the 1990 election full of dreams and promise. Although the election campaigns of the 93 political parties were heavily controlled by the junta, the National League for Democracy won 392 out of 485 seats. The Shan Nationalities League for Democracy won 23 seats and the BSPP’s new incarnation, the National Unity Party, won just 10 seats. Here, most Burma watchers claimed that it was a free and fair election although there was no freedom of expression and no free international monitoring system.
According to Huntington’s third wave democratisation thesis of 1993 and many other political theorists, elections are a major tool for the democratisation process. In 1990, the 38-million-strong population of Burma overwhelmingly honoured the legitimacy and authority of the election to bring about the rule of law and to manage the state mechanism. But the military generals have neither transferred state political power to the election winning parties nor convened a people’s parliament.
Consequently, the elected MPs of all election winning parties have not convened a parliament themselves, though they have the moral and political responsibility to carry out the people’s legitimate decision as reflected in the election result. While the winners of the 1990 election claim that they have political legitimacy, the military junta argues that it has de jure legitimacy. Consequently, the military has not honored the election result, while the 1990 MPs-elect have not formed a democratic government themselves in the sovereign mainland of Burma. Thus, Burma has become a paradox of bulletocracy and representative democracy.
In addition, the MPs of 1990 election have been applying elite-driven transition models, including policies of national reconciliation and UN-brokered dialogue with the generals, while the generals have repeatedly and officially rejected their demands. Yet again, the situation since the 1990 election has remained absolutely stagnant and the opportunity for a civilian-initiated transitional process has not yet been consolidated. continue

A United Kingdom-based charity group on Thursday rejected the call by a campaign group on travel agencies, to stop business deals with Burma, saying tourism helped the people of Burma.

Charity Group says tourism will help restore democracy in Burma
by Salai Pi Pi
Thursday, 19 February 2009 22:50

New Delhi (Mizzima) – A United Kingdom-based charity group on Thursday rejected the call by a campaign group on travel agencies, to stop business deals with Burma, saying tourism helped the people of Burma.

Network Myanmar, a charity group led by former British Ambassador to Thailand, Derek Tonkin, in a statement on Wednesday said, promoting tourism in Burma helped the people of the country as it could create jobs for many people.

“We believe that responsible tourism can make a valuable contribution to the cause of democratic reform in Myanmar [Burma],” Derek Tonkin, Chairman of Network Myanmar, said in the press release.

Tonkin’s comment came after a UK-based campaign group, Tourism Concern, on Tuesday said at least 24 tour operators in UK, had business links with Burma by arranging clients for hotels and resorts, owned by Burmese military junta’s cronies, who were blacklisted by the European Council.

However, Tonkin and members of Network Myanmar said that tourism had overwhelming support of the vast majority of the local population, as it helped to address unemployment problems in Burma.

Tonkin said he rejected the call by ‘Tourism Concern’ on tour operators to withdraw from Burma, until meaningful democracy was restored. He dubbed the report by ‘Tourism Concern’ as “misleading and irresponsible.”

“The further isolation of the long suffering Burmese people cannot possibly be in their interests,” Tonkin said.

However, Rachel Noble, spokesperson of ‘Tourism Concern’ defended its stand by saying the European Union’s trade sanctions against the Burmese military regime, have had no impact on the normal Burmese people, but cut off the lifelines of the regime.

She said it was the regime that had tormented the Burmese people and brought about their economic downfall.

“The Burmese people are starving because of the regime’s mismanagement. You cannot just blame the sanctions,” Noble said.

“Some people are keen to point out that the West’s isolation policy is not effective because they are striving for business deals in that country [Burma],” she added.

The Tourism Concern also called on the UK government to update and implement the European Council 2008 regulation and to issue clear guidelines to all UK tour operators and tourism establishments, not to breach the EC trade ban.

However, a report in UK-based Travel Weekly said the ‘Bales Worldwide’ travel agency, one of the tour operators, which Tourism Concern has accused of funding the Burmese regime, has defended its decision to make Burmese destinations in its tour programmes.

“We are a non-political organization and there is a lot of potential harm you can do by isolating a country,” Iain Fenton, Sales Director of Bales Worldwide, was quoted as saying in the report.

If you believe in trolls and…

Quintana winds up Burma visit

y Solomon
Thursday, 19 February 2009 21:41

New Delhi (Mizzima) – United Nations Human Rights expert, Tomas Ojea Quintana, on Thursday left Burma with partial information on the situation of Human Rights in the country, the opposition party said.

Nyan Win, spokesperson of the National League for Democracy, said Quintana while in Burma, had not met their party and was unable to meet all the people, whom he should have met.

“I think, he [Quintana], could only get partial information on the situation of human rights as he was unable to meet all the concerned people,” Nyan Win said.

Quintana, before leaving Burma on Thursday, held a press conference at Mingalardon Airport in Rangoon, the UN office in Rangoon said.

During his visit, Quintana, met government officials and diplomats in Rangoon and Naypyitaw and also visited Karen state in eastern Burma.

During his visit to Karen state, the UN envoy met Karen splinter groups – Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army Peace Council, and Democratic Karen Buddhist Army.

However, he did not meet the Karen National Union, the main armed group of ethnic Karen, which has waged war for self-determination for 60 years.

In Naypyitaw, the UN envoy met the Chief Justice, Attorney General, Foreign Minister, Minister for Labour, Home Minister and the Chairman of the Civil Service Selection and Training Board.

The six-day visit was Quintana’s second trip to Burma, since he was appointed the Special Rapportuer for the situation of Human Rights in Burma. Quintana first visited the country in August 2008.

Quintana did not meet Zargarnar says UN

by Solomon
Thursday, 19 February 2009 21:56

New Delhi (Mizzima) – The United Nations office in Rangoon has denied that visiting UN human rights expert Quintana met detained popular comedian Zargarnar on Wednesday.

Earlier, a prison official in Myitkyina and a relative of Zargarnar told Mizzima that the UN envoy had visited the Myitkyina prison in Kachin state, and met Zargarnar late on Wednesday evening.

Zargarnar’s relative, who did not wish to be named said, she was informed by a source, who monitored the prison in Myitkyina. However, she admits that it was not confirmed.

Meanwhile, Aye Win, the UN spokesperson in Rangoon, said, “Quintana did not visit Kachin state and did not meet Zargarnar. He was in Naypyitaw on Wednesday and Thursday.”

Quintana, on Thursday, met diplomats and held a press conference in Rangoon before leaving the country, Aye Win said.

According to the United Nations, the envoy, during his trip, was supposed to meet government officials, as well as visit Karen, Kachin and Arakan states.

However, the envoy, who wound up his six-day visit on Thursday, failed to visit Kachin state in Northern Burma and Arakan state in western Burma.

Myanmar human rights situation ‘challenging,’ admits UN envoy

Yangon – Myanmar’s human rights situation remains “challenging,” United Nations Special Human Rights Envoy Rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana concluded Thursday, winding up a six-day visit to the junta-ruled nation. The junta refused to allow Quintana to meet with either Aung San Suu Kyi, the longstanding leader of the opposition, or Myanmar’s junta chief Senior General Than Shwe during the trip.
“The human rights situation in Myanmar is still challenging,” Quintana said shortly before departing the country late Thursday night.
Quintana arrived on Saturday on a mission to push for the freedom of an estimated 2,100 political prisoners, including Suu Kyi who has spent 13 of the past 19 years under house arrest, and to assess abuses against ethnic minority groups opposed to the regime.
The UN human rights envoy travelled to the junta’s headquarters in Naypyitaw Wednesday where he met with Myanmar’s interior minister to push for the freedom of political prisoners. continue,myanmar-human-rights-situation-challenging-admits-un-envoy.html

Secret of Thai success in opium war

High up in the beautiful mountains where Thailand, Burma and Laos meet, the landscape has been transformed in the years since the “Golden Triangle” produced practically all the world’s opium.
Afghanistan gradually took over the dubious mantle in the late 1990s and is now responsible for 90% of the world’s heroin.
It is a figure which has gone up, rather than down since Britain and the rest of the international community took responsibility for reducing the illicit harvest.
Over the same timescale, the Golden Triangle has seen its opium crop plummet to just a fraction of world supply. continue

Myanmar rights situation still challenging: UN

YANGON (AFP) – Myanmar’s human rights situation remains “challenging” and there are few signs of improvement, a UN independent expert on human rights said as he wrapped up a six-day visit Thursday.
But Tomas Ojea Quintana, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, said that there were “positive signs” from the ruling junta over his recommendations to the regime.
Quintana said he had recommended the “progressive release” of political prisoners held by the military regime when he met Myanmar’s minister for home affairs.
“The human rights situation is still challenging. It is difficult for me to affirm that the human rights situation has improved,” Quintana told reporters before flying out from Yangon.
Quintana, who arrived in the Southeast Asian nation on Saturday, said he had met five political prisoners during a four-hour visit to the notorious Insein prison in Yangon. He also met chief justice Aung Toe, he said.
The regime has handed out heavy jail terms to dozens of pro-democracy activists in recent months, many of them involved in protests led by Buddhist monks that erupted in 2007.
Quintana’s visit is expected to pave the way for a possible trip later in the year by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.
Quintana said he planned to return to Myanmar in December.
The UN’s Special Envoy to Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, was in Myanmar last month and met detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi but failed to secure a meeting with Myanmar’s head of state Senior General Than Shwe.
Aung San Suu Kyi has spent most of the last 19 years under detention by the junta that has ruled the country since 1962. Her National League of Democracy won a landslide election victory in 1990 that the junta refused to recognise.
The regime has promised to hold elections in 2010, but critics have dismissed the polls as a sham.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said earlier this week that US President Barack Obama’s administration was looking for a better way to bring change to Myanmar.
“We are conducting a review of our policy,” Clinton said in Tokyo when asked whether there was an alternative to sanctions.
Former US President George W. Bush’s administration strengthened decade-old sanctions against Myanmar.