Protesters end Mae Sot besieging

Mae Sot, Tak – Vendors of corns for animal feeds ended their besieging of Mae Sot district early Thursday morning.

The protesters agreed to clear their blockade of the road to the district at 2 am following their talk with Tak governor Komsan Ekchai and Mae Sot district chief Kitti Tomornsak.

The vendors used ten-wheel trucks to block the Mueang-Mae Sot Road in front the Rajabhat University, Khamphaeng Phet branch, Wednesday night to protest the Commerce Ministry’s measures to control the transport of corns.

The Nation

After the Whirlwind: Post-Nargis Burma, the 2010 Elections and Prospects for Reform

In the wake of Nargis, there has been renewed debate about how the international community should respond and whether punitive sanctions and isolation are working to promote reform. Indeed, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her recent Asian tour spoke of the need to review US policy towards Burma, saying that the current policies have not worked. The US has not yet made any moves to lift sanctions or travel bans, but she has made it clear that the Obama Administration is reconsidering its options and policies, a shift that mirrors elements of international discourse concerning reform in Burma. Any moves towards softening the US policy will face tough opposition in the Congress where there has been bi-partisan support for hard-line policies, including most recently the sanctions on trade in hardwood, gems and mining projects included in the Block Burmese JADE (Junta’s Anti-Democratic Efforts) Burma Democracy Promotion Act of 2007.

Michael Green, Bush’s nominee for special envoy to Burma—Congress has yet to act on this nomination since it has not yet been endorsed by the Obama Administration—notes that Senator John Kerry advocates large increases in humanitarian aid to Burma, but he does not expect lifting of sanctions any time soon. Indeed, he strongly supports “coercive diplomacy” and if approved as special envoy he would seek to strengthen international cooperation on sanctions and isolation aimed at pressuring the regime to reform and allow the democratic opposition to participate in fair elections in 2010. Articulating the hard-line position he says,

“We are good at the smart sanctions targeting bank accounts and tracking the flow of money. What we need is better cooperation. Singapore was very helpful with North Korea and I am certain they will help us on Burma. We are hoping that Austria and Australia will tighten up on enforcement. It is important for us to get our “sticks” in a row, close loopholes, tighten targeted sanctions and improve our gathering and analysis of intelligence by the NSA. This is how we will get the junta’s attention…hitting them where it hurts.”

The International Crisis Group (ICG) provides in-depth analysis of conditions in Burma, but is often criticized for being overly solicitous of the junta. The principal author of the ICG reports on Burma, Morten Pedersen, argues that the current strategy of imposing sanctions and isolating the military junta is not working, creating a stalemate that shows no signs of resolution. He asserts that sanctions and isolation actually strengthen the junta’s grip on power, allowing them to pose as defenders of the nation. In his view, the military leaders will not bow to pressure for political reform and are well insulated from economic sanctions, especially with rising LNG revenues. The problem is that the people of Burma are not insulated from the usual problems of endemic poverty—the UN estimates that 30% of the population faces acute poverty—and many are swept up in a gathering humanitarian crisis. However, despite appalling conditions, international aid to Burma is only about 5% per capita of what comparable developing nations typically receive. This is one of the costs of isolation that harms the people. The ICG advocates broader, sustained engagement and a sharp increase in aid to fund “sustainable humanitarian development”. continue

Thai trucks protest, block border crossings between Myawaddy and Mae Sot

Two Thai groups are making protests by blocking border crossings near Mae Sot, Thailand, across from Myawaddy, Karen State. One group is protesting what they feel to be unfair competition from Burmese transport trucks. The other is complaining about late payments for agricultural purchases.

Beginning on March 2nd, at least ten 10-wheel trucks began blocking the Nong Bua crossing between Burma and Thailand. According to an IMNA source that spoke with protesters from both groups as well as Thai police, the trucks were there because of agricultural purchases.

The Thai government purchased corn from area farmers over a month ago, said the source, but has yet to provide the payments promised to farmers.

Today, at least 150 Thai-owned pick-up trucks began clogging the road from the Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge, which links Mae Sot and Myawaddy.

According to the IMNA source, the truck drivers are unhappy about what they feel to be unfair competition from Burmese transport trucks. The drivers all operate trucks that bring passengers from the Thai side of the border crossing to the town of Mae Sot. The trip costs 15 baht, and the trucks are sometimes stopped and searched by Thai authorities.

A group of Burmese trucks, meanwhile, have organized their operations with Thai authorities and are able to transport passengers directly from Myawaddy to Mae Sot without being searched. Business has, consequently, become quite popular, cutting into the number of passengers available for the Thai drivers.

The Thai drivers made a complaint to local authorities but received no help, said the source.

Both protests are expected to continue tomorrow.

Though the traffic-jams cum protests are causing headaches for travelers, other businesspeople accustomed to periodic government border closures are continuing about their business.

“Because of the protest, now the traders have to use another way to get to Mae Sot,” a Myawaddy resident told IMNA. “They are going by boat.”

UNITED NATIONS, March 5 _.. small conference room the indictment of Myanmar’s General Than Shwe was urged with almost no coverage.

inner city press
Alongside a small plate of cookies there were flyers describing “hundreds of cases of rape, forced pregnancy and murder” and over 450,000 “Burmese deemed to be internally displaced in eastern Burma.” There were no reporters, save one. This is a great day for international justice, one of the speakers said. There is no obstacle to indicting Than Shwe than our own thinking, she added, saying that China has been meeting in secret with the National League for Democracy, hedging its bets about Than Shwe.

Earlier on Wednesday, Inner City Press asked Human Rights Watch’s Richard Dicker if HRW is urging the Security Council to refer to the International Criminal Court Than Shwe, Kim Jong-Il in North Korea and even, as has been requested, some in Sri Lanka. He replied that Sri Lanka, like Myanmar, is not a member of the ICC. Neither is Sudan; HRW among others pushed to get the Council to make the referral.

In the conference room with cookies, Naw Htoo Paw and Khin Sann Htwe of the Thailand-based Women’s League of Burma spoke passionately about the lack of freedom in their country, and their refusal to accept the 2008 constitution, which was pushed through just after Cyclone Nargis in a campaign in which it was illegal to speak against the constitution. Myanmar presentation, "good luck" says UN's Gambari
Myanmar presentation, “good luck” says UN’s Gambari
The speakers called the result one of “gender apartheid,” noting that 25% of the seats have to go to those with military backgrounds, and that the two military academies do not accept women. It was unclear if they would like Than Shwe’s schools to open themselves to women. continue

Myanmar Egress denies rumours of contesting in 2010 polls

by Phanida
Thursday, 05 March 2009 22:44

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – The Rangoon based civil society ‘Myanmar Egress’ on Thursday denied rumors that the group is preparing to contest the ensuing 2010 general elections.

A senior member of the Myanmar Egress, a group claiming to be into human resource training and capacity building, on Thursday told Mizzima that it has no plans to get involved in party politics. They have issued a statement explaining their stand and to counter the rumours.

“I have nothing to say in particular as we have already expressed our view in our statement. This news has been circulated among the people. In Burma, nothing is free of speculation and rumors,” the senior member of the group, who requested not to be named, said.

Myanmar Egress in February issued a statement saying it does not want to involve itself in politics and has no plans to contest the ensuing 2010 election, but is committed to the upliftment of the people’s capacity by training them and involving them in community works.

The Myanmar Egress is made up of seven people including Dr. Nay Win Maung, publisher of the ‘Living Colour’ magazine, ‘The Voice’ weekly journal, and intellectuals and businessmen. continue

Mizos blame Chins for HRW report

by Salai Pi Pi
Thursday, 05 March 2009 21:32

New Delhi (Mizzima) – A social organization in India’s northeastern state of Mizoram has demanded an apology from the Chin community living in the state over a report published by Human Rights Watch.

The Young Mizo Association (YMA), a social organization in Mizoram state, on Tuesday, at a meeting with at least 23 Chin organizations demanded they refute a human rights report on Mizo’s treatment of Chin published by HRW.

A Chin representative, who attended the meeting, told Mizzima that the Central YMA was enraged over the HRW’s accusation that Mizo’s have ill-treated the Chin, who fled their homes in Burma.

J H Zoremthanga, President of CYMA, in the meeting, accused the Chin leaders of misinforming the HRW on YMA’s treatment of the Chin community, living in the state.

“He [Zoremthanga] said that HRW’s report on YMA and Mizo authorities is not true and is exaggerated,” said the representative adding, “He asked us to apologize for the report.”

Human Rights Watch, in its report “We are like forgotten people”, released in January said Chin people living in western Burma have been silently suffering under the military junta’s rule and systematic persecutions have led several thousands to flee to neighbouring countries, particularly to India’s northeastern State of Mizoram. continue

Conflicts and human rights violations continue to cause displacement- report

Displacement as a result of conflict and human rights violations continued in Myanmar in 2008. An estimated 66,000 people from ethnic minority communities in eastern Myanmar were forced to become displaced in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict and human rights abuses. As of October 2008, there were at least 451,000 people reported to be internally displaced in the rural areas of eastern Myanmar. This is however a conservative figure, and there is no information available on figures for internally displaced people (IDPs) in several parts of the country. (…)$file/Myanmar_Overview_Mar09.pdf

FROM THE BARRACKS_Drug smugglers have a field day as border patrols reassigned to political tasks

By: Wassana Nanuam
Published: 5/03/2009 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: News
The military’s preoccupation with political missions has swung open the northern border frontiers to drug traffickers.

The political priorities may have overridden the urgency to plug border gaps and thus the military’s duty to suppress drugs risks falling by the wayside.

Speed pills are being peddled in forests and it is done almost as easily as foraging for wild berries. Traders enter the forests to negotiate with drugs suppliers on a wholesale price for the pills, according to a military source.

It is not that the Third Army or the Pha Muang task force supervising the northern border security have neglected their jobs. It is simply because drug-busting soldiers are few these days.

A number of the military drug combatants have been assigned tasks alien to them, having been mobilised to fulfil political assignments.

Since the Sept 19, 2006 coup which sent former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra into exile, a vast number of soldiers occupied with sealing the border against penetration by drug traffickers, have been re-assigned with instructions to cosy up to local communities. The exercise was interpreted as a means to wean people off the political influence of a certain political enterprise.

Military commanders – the coup engineers included – have been so busy tying up loose ends that they have let their guard down against intrusion by border drug traffickers in the North.

Intelligence officials who normally had their fingers on the pulse of news related to drug trafficking, stepped away from their responsibility, going further away from their sources of information and thus impeding intelligence compilation.

It is no easy task re-establishing informant contacts or getting re-acquainted with the sources. The drug networks have become more suspicious of whom they speak to.

The scaled-back intelligence and dwindling number of border soldiers have lifted the floodgates to drugs flowing into the country.

Although drug hauls have been made, the amount of illicit substances seized is disappointingly small, owing in part to the possible bribes which authorities pocketed from traffickers in exchange for border clearance, claimed a high-ranking source in the Third Army.

There has been no let-up in production of drugs by the minority rebels active on the Burmese side.

But it is the Thai authorities who have slowed their border policing operations at the expense of the country’s narcotics control efficiency.

Down south, the diversion of manpower to serve a political purpose has also hurt the goal of uprooting the separatist insurgency.

An alarm has now been set off, with credible reports of the ethnic rebel group Red Wa on its way to boosting methamphetamine output by a steep 20% to offset the volume of drugs seized by Thai authorities and to pay for replenishing the group’s stockpile of weapons used to counter its enemies in the upcoming dry season.

A source familiar with the issue said the Red Wa plans to churn out a record 500 million speed pills this year. All of the pills are expected to be smuggled into Thailand through the broken border seams.

The orange methamphetamine pills embossed with the signature WY have found markets in Thailand while a new version of the pills bearing the letters TG is being developed. The pills become more expensive as they travel deeper into Thailand, sometimes changing hands for 250 baht each.

It is estimated that the supply of heroin originating from the infamous Golden Triangle will surge by 30% this year, since opium cultivation has quadrupled in yield.

Demands for heroin and cocktail drugs is buoyed by the constant stream of orders from drug abusers at wild parties.

There is no better time than now for the army to relieve its soldiers of political preoccupation and swing its focus back to the drugs problem rampant on the common Thai-Burmese border. Return the soldiers to the borders where they are needed most.

The Third Army with its jurisdiction in the North where Thaksin Shinawatra wields substantial political influence, has reportedly been ordered to place its manpower in a position to contain the former prime minister’s loyalists and keep his political henchmen on a tight leash in future elections.

It is as clear as day that the military has chosen to be on the ruling Democrat party’s side. It reportedly succeeded in lobbying politicians to back Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva for the premiership, while being seen to be responsive to the government’s request for soldiers to reinforce the police in anti-riot exercises and instill public order – the very tasks the military seemed hesitant to fulfil before.

The community relations programme which drug-suppression soldiers have engaged in are criticised as a facade for a sinister objective – emasculating the anti-government, red-clad United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship.

It is business as usual for the illegal drug producers while the northern borders are under-policed. The army used to be showered with credit for guarding the country’s gates against narcotic drug inflows. But the political agenda seems to have put the keys to the gates in the hands of traffickers.

Wassana Nanuam reports on military affairs for the Bangkok Post.

Asia is expected to outstrip the rest of the world in defence spending within seven years as China and India upgrade their armed forces, a research consultancy said here on Thursday.

Asia to take lead in arms spending
China, India to lead the charge, consultant predicts

Published: 5/03/2009 at 07:07 PM
SINGAPORE – Asia is expected to outstrip the rest of the world in defence spending within seven years as China and India upgrade their armed forces, a research consultancy said here on Thursday.

Asia’s overall defence budget will account for 32 per cent of global military spending by 2016, or US$480 billion, up from 24 per cent in 2007, Frost and Sullivan’s regional director for defence practice Ratan Shrivastava said.

North America, the biggest defence spender in 2007 with 39 per cent of the world arms market, will see its share fall to 29 per cent or $435 billion, he said at a conference organised by the company.

In India, about $100 billion will be spent on defence procurement over the next five years, said Shrivastava.

“Moving forward, we feel that the focus will shift from North America to Asia Pacific markets,” he said.

“This shift will happen by the growth of Asian economies, primarily China who will be driving it… and India will emerge as one of the biggest importers of weapons and technology systems.”

The current global economic crisis will not dampen national defence spending, said Shrivastava.

“No country will risk its security for the sake of saving a few million dollars,” he told AFP. “Defence spending is a long-term recession-proof industry which is not really affected by cyclical downturns and upturns.”

Shrivastava said there were limited details available about the nature of China’s defence spending but estimated Beijing’s arms budget would increase from $120 billion in 2007 to $255 billion by 2016.

China’s growing military spending in recent years has come in for increasing criticism, particularly from the United States and its allies.

At its annual meeting of parliament, which began Thursday, China announced its defence spending in 2009 will grow 15.3 percent to 472.9 billion yuan ($69 billion) but insisted the bigger military spending posed no threat to the world.

“China’s limited military powers will be solely used for the purpose of safeguarding its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said Li Zhaoxing, spokesman for the National People’s Congress.

“This will not pose a threat to any country,” he said at a parliamentary press conference.