BANGKOK, Mar 16 (IPS) – It is a photograph from happier times. Nilar Thein and her husband Kyaw Min Yu look relaxed and free. They both sport warm smiles. Kyaw Min Yu, or ‘Jimmy’, is carrying the couple’s baby daughter.
But it was a brief spark of happiness for the Burmese couple. They are paying a hevy price for being in the vanguard of the country’s pro-democracy struggle, challenging the oppressive grip of the ruling military regime.
The baby was born in May 2007. Three months later, on Aug. 21, Jimmy was arrested with other leading pro-democracy activists for staging street protests against the rise in the prices of oil and commodities in the already impoverished South-east Asian nation.
Nilar Thein’s luck ran out after being on the run for over a year. She was arrested in September 2008. It was not for the first time that she, like her husband, had been jailed for being a political activist. After all, they had met in prison, when they were serving long sentences previously.
But the sentences that the 37-year-old Nilar Thein and the 40-year-old Jimmy received in November 2008 pointed to a sinister plan by the junta, to crush any hint of opposition ahead of the planned general elections in 2010. Nilar Thein and Jimmy, who had served nine-year and 15-year terms respectively, were each slapped with 65-year prison sentences.
Their story – and the picture of the once free couple – is expected to traverse across the globe as part of the largest international signature campaign launched by 150 Burmese groups to secure the release of all political prisoners in Burma, or Myanmar.
The organisers of the Free Burma’s Political Prisoners Now! (FBPPN) campaign hope to collect nearly one million signatures before May 24, the day pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is to be released after six years of house arrest, if the junta abides by the law.
Such a high number of endorsements during the 11-week campaign are expected to turn the heat on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, target of the global signature campaign. The FBPPN wants the world body’s top diplomat to ‘’make it his personal priority to secure the release of all political prisoners in Burma, as the essential first step towards democracy in the country.’’
‘’The freedom for all the political prisoners in Burma has become an international benchmark to judge the state of democracy in the country,’’ Soe Aung, spokesperson for the FBPPN campaign, told IPS. ‘’The campaign hopes to reach to a larger group of people concerned about the repression in Burma.’’
‘’As long as political prisoners stay in the jails, there will not be peace and development in Burma,’’ says Su Mon Aye, who became the youngest female political prisoner in the country when she was arrested in April 2000. She was 19 years at the time and an undergraduate student of chemistry.
‘’Those who are released never give up their political activity. They refuse to sign statements promising to stay away from politics,’’ added Su Mon Aye during the Bangkok launch of the global campaign. ‘’We have to fight the government to get our freedoms.’’
Other activists who also served prison terms for their political beliefs are as adamant. ‘’It is high time for the Burmese authorities to release all political prisoners,’’ says Moe Zaw Oo, who was jailed in Rangoon’s notorious Insein prison for nine years following his 1990 arrest for being a political activist. ‘’They are not criminals.’’
Currently, Burmese jails hold over 2,100 political prisoners, up from the 1,200 activists in jails in mid-2007. This jump follows the wave of arrests that followed the peaceful, pro-democracy street protests led by Buddhist monks in September 2007, which was harshly suppressed.
Nilar Thein and Jimmy are among the 23 leaders of the 88 Generation Students group of pro-democracy activists who have received 65-year prison sentences each. The group gets its name from giving leadership as students during the August 1988 pro-democracy uprising, which was brutally crushed by the military – resulting in close to 3,000 deaths.
Burma’s jails hold 220 monks and six nuns, all of whom ‘’have been forcibly stripped of their robes by the authorities and many of them have been tortured,’’ says the FBPPN in a campaign note.
The other political prisoners include 456 members of the National League for Democracy (NLD), the opposition party led by Suu Kyi, 186 female prisoners, and 20 men and women who were volunteers assisting victims of the devastating cyclone that crashed through Burma’s Irrawaddy delta in May last year, killing tens of thousands of people.
The move by the FBPPN to turn to the Internet to secure the nearly million signatures by calling for sympathisers to endorse the on-line petition also places this drive in a new league. It marks a steady shift away from the traditional form such campaigns took – writing letters that were sent in the mail.
‘’The campaign is taking advantage of a medium that has become a powerful tool to get information out of Burma,’’ says David Scott Mathieson, Burma consultant for the global rights lobby Human Rights Watch (HRW). ‘’It is a smart move.’’
‘’Ban Ki-moon will have to redouble the U.N.’s efforts since this campaign will mean a million people will be aware of Burma’s political prisoners,’’ Mathieson told IPS. ‘’This is one the biggest campaigns that aims to show the world just how serious the problem is.’’
The campaign could unnerve the military which has held the country in its grip since a 1962 coup. ‘’Burma’s military leaders could not ignore this unified call,’’ says Aung Zaw, editor of ‘The Irrawaddy,’ a current affairs magazine published by Burmese journalists living in exile. ‘’They are afraid of it, we have heard from our sources.’’
ips news – Please sign petition on Burma campaign UK
16 March (1988), Red Bridge Remembrance Day. The white bridge was splattered with students’ blood.
A United Nations human rights investigator says Burma’s military rulers should free more than 2,100 political prisoners they are holding before elections next year.
Tomas Ojea Quintana says Burma must release prisoners of conscience to ensure the election and its aftermath comply with international standards of a democratic society. His recommendation is part of report to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Quintana says Burma’s government should not impose conditions on released dissidents, such as making them sign statements renouncing the right to political activism. He also says prisoners awaiting release should be spared from cruel treatment and receive urgent medical care.
The U.N. special rapporteur based his report on a visit to Burma last month. He says he found that many dissidents were sentenced in close-door hearings without legal representation, without the presence of relatives and without proof of evidence or with defective evidence.
Quintana also says reliable sources informed him that lawyers defending dissidents were imprisoned for contempt of court — an offense that Burmese law leaves open to interpretation by the courts.
Burma’s military rulers released 6,313 prisoners last month in a general amnesty, including 29 prisoners of conscience. Qintana says the release of the dissidents is welcome but lacks proportionality.
The most prominent of the remaining 2,100 political prisoners is opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been detained for 13 of the last 19 years.
Differences among groups planning to contest election
Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Differences have cropped up between two groups led by Aye Lwin and Ohn Lwin, which are jointly planning to contest the 2010 general elections, according to sources.
While forming a united political front, differences developed between these two groups over using the name ‘Front’ or ‘League’, and how to contest the election, whether in the name of a united front or as an individual party.
‘New generation students for studying political economy’ Secretary Ohn Lwin said that they joined hands with the group led by Aye Lwin in 2007 for an anti-economic sanction campaign and the emergence of new constitution but Aye Lwin later formed his own party.
“We first formed our group called the ‘Burma National Political Forces’. And then he (Aye Lwin) controlled the 88 Generation Students and Youth Organization and League for Burma National Politics. We continued as the original united front in the name of National Political Force. He split from our organization”, he added.
Ohn Lwin organized a meeting for national affairs in Rangoon yesterday. Out of 18 invited organizations and individuals, 88 Generation Students and Youths (Union of Myanmar) and ‘new generation study group for modern science and political economy’ didn’t attend the meeting. The latter only sent its felicitation message.
All the parties which attended the meeting agreed to stand as ‘Union of Myanmar National Political Forces’, Ohn Lwin said.
Vice Chairman Ye Tun of the 88 Generation Students and Youths (Union of Myanmar) led by Aye Lwin said that the meeting for national affairs had nothing to do with their group and the use of the name ‘League for National Politics’ was agreed at their meeting held previously following a majority decision.
“We started the National Political Forces which originated from the 88 Generation Students and Youths (Union of Myanmar). Then we joined hands with like minded organizations in an anti-economic sanction campaign. Then we held a series of meetings in States and Divisions explaining national political affairs. We had a lot of audiences in these meetings,” he said.
“Then these like minded organizations told us that they would like to join an organization which comprised of all organizations. So we decided to form an organization which could accommodate all these groups in consensus at the 2nd Quarterly Meeting by its meeting resolution No. 4/2007. It is after this that the ‘League for National Politics’ emerged,” he added.
Moreover, he said, the groups in this league have weaknesses in organizational functioning and working in organizational procedures. They frequently failed to toe the majority decisions.
Aye Lwin’s group usually conducts organizational tours in States and Divisions. They are going to Pyi (Prome) and Mawlamyaing (Moulmein) for organizational tours soon.
Furthermore they agreed to publish a political journal in principle, but had to discuss and arrange many more things such as the editorial board and publishing license. For the name of the journal, they are considering many names including ‘Khut Daung Yin Kwin’ (Bosom of fighting peacock).
Campaigners unhappy over Japan’s support to junta
The training on how to conduct an election was given to five Burmese military officials by Japan as part of its support to the junta’s seven-step roadmap to democracy, of which the general election is the fifth step.
Yuki Akimoto, a Japanese activist with the Burma Information Network (Japan) told Mizzima on Monday that she was aware of the training given to the Burmese officials by the Japanese government.
“I am aware that Japan hosted a training facility on how to conduct elections to five officers from the military regime,” said Akimoto, adding that it made her sad to think that Japan is strongly supporting the regime’s election.
The news of Japan’s secret training came as a not-so-surprising fact to Burma observers as Japan has maintained its support towards the Burmese military regime’s roadmap to democracy.
Akimoto said, Japan has encouraged the Burmese junta to conduct a free and fair election and believes that it could bring about a change in Burma through the process.
But she argues that Japan, being Asia’s strongest democracy, should give a closer look at the Junta’s 2008 constitution and urged for a more inclusive process. continue http://www.mizzima.com/
Monday, 16 March 2009 20:09
Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – A former South Dagon Township Organizing Committee member of the National League for Democracy party in Rangoon Division, was arrested by the authorities on Sunday.
Kyi Lwin (53) who had retired as the Township NLD organizing committee member, after suffering a stroke a year and-a-half ago, was arrested on Sunday. He was arrested by about 30 people, including Police Special Branch (SB), Ward Peace and Development Council (WPDC) members and Swan Arrshin, who said they needed to interrogate him.
“They entered our house and searched all the papers and documents. They asked him if he had any contact with Pauk Sa from Sanchaung Township. They told him that they wanted to ask him about matters relating to Sanchaung,” Thein Myint Tun, his younger brother told Mizzima.
Pauk Sa a.k.a. Thet Wei, Chairman of the Sanchaung Township NLD, has been serving a two-year prison sentence since September 2008, for lodging complaints to the International Labour Organization (ILO), against the use of child soldiers in Burma.
However, he was released from prison on February 21, as part of the government’s amnesty granted to more than 6,000 prisoners from across the country.
“We heard that he is still in ‘Aungthapyay Interrogation Centre’. He was earning his living by selling drums of water. He was an active party member in NLD, working together with Pauk Sa,” Thein Myint Tun said.
Nyan Win, the NLD party spokesperson said Kyi Lwin had served the party only as an ordinary party member, for the past one and-a-half years due to his poor health.
Similarly, NLD Ahlone Township member and NLD HQ Social Aid Group member, Ma Cho a.k.a. Ma Myint Myint San was arrested by the authorities, while on her way home from office on March 13.
“She was arrested on her way home from office. She lives in Ahlone Township. At about 11 p.m. on that night, the local authority (Ward level PDC committee members) came to her home and informed her family that she was being held in Thuwanna stadium, and they had taken her there to question her about matters relating to a telephone,” an intimate friend of Ma Cho said.
Nyan Win said that Ma Cho was helping the families of political prisoners.
NLD Thaketa Township organizing committee member and photographer for every event of NLD HQ, U Thein Lwin, was also arrested in Taungoo, two weeks ago.
Meanwhile, Sanchaung Township NLD Organizing Committee member Ko Sein Hlaing and Ko Shwe Jo from NLD Hlaing Township, were arrested on March 6 and 8 respectively.
According to Nyan Win, the party was enquiring into the reasons for their arrests.
“We cannot say anything yet, as we do not know the reasons for their arrests. We still do not know why they have been arrested and what questions they are being asked. We are still enquiring about them,” he said. http://www.mizzima.com/
The Chamber of Commerce in Thailand’s Tak Province has proposed a plan to build a second “Friendship Bridge” linking Mae Sot and Myawaddy, according to the head of the local business association.
Ampol Chatchaiyareuk, chairman of the Tak Chamber of Commerce, told The Irrawaddy today that he proposed the idea during a commercial trade meeting held in Mae Sot on Saturday. The meeting included representatives from Thailand, Burma, China and Laos.
“If the Burmese government agrees to do it, we will build it,” said Amphol. “We are just waiting for their approval.”
He said a new bridge is necessary because the existing one is getting old and is not suitable for large trucks. He added that the new bridge would bring a twofold increase in border trade.
The proposed bridge would be built in Shwe Kokko, a village in Myawaddy Township that is under the control of Brigade 999 of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA).
According to a Karen businessman in Myawaddy, the DKBA has long had plans to build a bridge linking the village to Mae Sot, on the Thai side of the border.
He said the group, which has close connections to Burma’s ruling regime, has already constructed a new road to handle the expected increase in transport traffic, and has tried to attract local businesspeople to invest in the village.
“They have been telling me for a long time to buy a plot of land for trading there, but there’s still no new bridge,” he added. “That’s why I haven’t bought any land there yet.”
Thailand earns around 1 billion baht (US $28 million) monthly from the bilateral border
trade between Myawaddy and Mae Sot, according to the Tak Chamber of Commerce.
The two countries began official border trade in Mae Sot after the Thai-Burma Friendship Bridge opened in 1997. A border trade zone in Myawaddy is expected to increase trade between the two countries. http://www.irrawaddy.org/article.php?art_id=15310
Money will goe to DKBA-Killers for Junta
Calls by Burma’s opposition National League for Democracy and its leader Aung San Suu Kyi for continued sanctions have met with increasing criticism recently, with charges that they are systematically weakening the country’s economy.
It is theoretically true that limitations on trade, investment and foreign aid have led to macroeconomic instability and even deterioration. But the question remains: could Burma’s economy boom if Western sanctions were lifted?
Burma observers, including critics from the anti-sanctions camp, would surely reply in the negative. They must agree that the suffering of the Burmese people has been almost exclusively caused by decades of economic mismanagement and lack of vision.
Policy decisions are determined according to the whims of junta leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe and his number 2, Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye, who has assumed a prominent role in economic matters. Economic decisions are often based on strategic, military factors, and the state bureaucracy have to enact them whether they like it or not.
While monopolizing the country’s economy, the ruling generals have rewarded personal friends and family members with preferential treatment. Certain companies close to the junta’s top leaders have been given special import permits and preferential lending. continue http://www.irrawaddy.org/opinion_story.php?art_id=15307