Save Burma

အာဏာရွင္စနစ္ က်ဆံုးမွ တတိုင္းျပည္လံုး စစ္မွန္တဲ့ ဒီမိုကေရစီကို ခံစားရမယ္

Posts Tagged ‘Larry Jagan

Myanmar’s spoiled vote for democracy

leave a comment »

Southeast Asia, May 1, 2008

Myanmar‘s spoiled vote for democracy
By Larry Jagan

BANGKOK – On May 10, Myanmar holds a national referendum on a new constitution, a charter which very few of the military-run country’s citizens have actually seen and one which the media and commentators are barred from publicly criticizing in the run-up to the vote. If passed, the charter will move the country into a new political era, though one still firmly controlled by the military.

Myanmar‘s military rulers are leaving little to democratic chance, as they apply restrictions and processes to orchestrate a “yes” vote, which by most international standards will not be considered a free and fair referendum. To be sure, without opinion polls, public sentiment is hard to gauge in Myanmar‘s tightly controlled society.

The vote significantly represents the first time since 1990 general elections, which military-backed candidates resoundingly lost to the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), that Myanmar‘s voters will go to the polls. The military famously annulled the 1990 election results and set in slow motion a 14-year process for drafting a new charter aimed at paving the way for new general elections.

There are competing interpretations of what the vote actually means. Some analysts believe both rural and urban voters, frustrated by the government’s severe mismanagement of the country, will overwhelmingly vote “no” as an expression of their discontent.

“They see it as a referendum on the military government; so expect a resounding ‘no’ from them,” said a Western aid worker in reference to rural voters in the country’s main central rice growing area. “It’s the first opportunity since the 1990 election that they have had to express themselves,” she said.

Others view it differently. “I’m going to vote ‘yes’ because I’m tired of the top brass running the country, and doing it very badly,” said a military colonel who wanted to remain anonymous due to concerns over his personal safety. “It’s time to get them out of government and a new constitution is the only sure way of doing that,” he added.

“You don’t need to read the constitution to know its simply conferring power on the military for eternity,” said an elderly Burmese academic who likewise wanted to remain anonymous. “The choice is simple – a vote in favor of adopting the constitution means we want the military to play the leading role in politics and run the county,” he said.

For its part, the military has repeatedly promised the referendum will be transparent, fair and systematic. Political opposition groups and diplomats, meanwhile, have expressed strong concerns that the results could easily be rigged in the military’s favor.

For instance, the regime has already said the results at each polling station will not be announced, even at a provincial level. The only announcement of the vote’s result will come from the military’s equivalent of an electoral commission in the new capital of Naypyidaw. “This is very different from the 1990 elections, when the election results were made public at each local polling station,” said Zin Linn, a former political prisoner and now spokesman for the Burmese government in exile. “It means they will be able to manipulate the results to their own ends.”

Adding to those concerns is the fact that the general public, not to mention the political opposition, will not be allowed to scrutinize the actual vote counting. A senior general recently told military and government officials in Yangon that only the last ten voters before the polls close would be allowed to stay and witness the actual count.

“These last 10 voters who can monitor the counting of the votes by the poll commission members will certainly be members of the Union Solidarity and Development Association, who Than Shwe has given the job of running the referendum and getting the result he wants,” said Win Min, a Burmese academic at Chiang Mai University in northern Thailand.

See no evil

Significantly, international election monitors have been banned from overseeing the vote and it is likely that only a few regime-friendly foreign journalists will be given visas to cover the referendum. Foreign monitoring is essential if the referendum is to have any international credibility, the former United Nations rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar, Paulo Pinheiro, told Asia Times Online in an exclusive interview.

“After decades without an election, at least international observers could verify the conditions of the vote,” said Pinheiro, who served in his UN capacity for seven years through April this year. “And the UN has a unit that just deals with elections, but the military government has refused their help.”

“I’ve been following political transitions throughout the world, including Asia for more than 30 years and I am yet to see a successful transition to democracy without a previous phase of liberalism,” he said. “There isn’t the faintest sign of that yet in the case of Myanmar.”

Indeed, state-run newspapers are predictably flush with statements endorsing the new constitution. “To approve the state constitution is a national duty of the entire people, let us all cast a ‘yes’ vote in the national interest.” Meanwhile the local media have been forbidden from reporting the “no” campaign, which has been perpetuated on the Internet and by political opposition groups.

The government has issued orders banning any criticism of the new constitution and violations are punishable with a possible ten-year jail sentence. Those who have dared to defy those orders have come under physical attack by pro-government thugs and at least twenty young NLD members have recently been arrested for wearing T-shirts that read “Vote No”.

The NLD has nonetheless launched a vigorous campaign in opposition to the constitution. “For the people who have the right to vote, we would like to encourage again all voters to go to the polling booths and make an ‘x’ [no] mark without fear,” the NLD urged voters in statement released to the press last week. It nonetheless portrayed the process as a sham. “An intimidating atmosphere for the people is created by physically assaulting some of the members of [the] NLD,” its statement read.

International observers endorse that assessment. “The whole process is surreal – to have a referendum where only those who are in favor of the constitution can campaign,” said Pinheiro in an interview. “A referendum without some basic freedoms – of assembly, political parties and free speech – is a farce. What the Myanmar government calls a process of democratization is in fact a process of consolidation of an authoritarian regime,” he said.

The new constitution took more than 14 years to draft, a tightly controlled process that excluded the NLD’s participation. The actual constitution was only revealed to the public a few weeks ago and is now on sale at 1,000 kyat per copy – the equivalent of US$1 in a country where more than eight out of 10 families live on less than $2 a day. Even then it’s nearly impossible to find copies, according to Western diplomats who in recent days have scoured the old capital of Yangon in search of the document.

Under the proposed constitution the president must hail from the military, while one-quarter of the parliamentary seats will be nominated by the army chief and key ministries under the military’s control, including the defense and interior portfolios. According to the charter’s text, the army also reserves the right to oust any civilian administration it deems to have jeopardized national security.

NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi, meanwhile, will be barred from politics under the charter because she was married to a foreigner, the eminent British academic and scholar of Tibet and Buddhism, Michael Aris, who died of prostate cancer in 1999. Nonetheless, the military is pitching the passage of the new charter as a step towards multi-party democracy, as laid out in the junta’s seven-stage roadmap to democracy.

The junta’s second in command, General Maung Aye, recently told a parade of new recruits that the constitution would pave the way for democracy. “Comrades, it is the Tatamadaw [military] that is constantly striving for the emergence of a constitution capable of shaping the multi-party democratic system,” he told the army recruits last week.

But even if the junta fixes the referendum’s results in its favor, it will face other major challenges in the run-up to general elections in 2010. That includes the formation of a transition government, which will entail the wholesale sacking of the current military cabinet, many of whom have entrenched business interests protected by their positions. It also in theory must allow new political parties to be formed and freely associate and campaign to contest the 2010 polls.

These steps will all likely be delayed substantially if there is a significant “no” vote at next week’s referendum. While the real vote count may never be made public, top military leaders will know whether or not voters support their envisaged transition to a form of military-led democracy. Depending on how the people vote, a negative result could cause Than Shwe and other top junta officials to yet again redraw their political reform roadmap.

Larry Jagan previously covered Myanmar politics for the British Broadcasting Corp. He is currently a freelance journalist based in Bangkok.

(Copyright 2008 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing .)

Advertisements

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

April 30, 2008 at 1:12 pm

Posted in Varieties in English

Tagged with , ,

Junta clamps down on tourist visa journalists

leave a comment »

Junta clamps down on tourist visa journalists

Burma’s military junta is apparently preparing to seal the country off as popular anger against the regime and the constitutional referendum it plans to hold on May 10 grows visibly in Rangoon and other cities, writes Edward Loxton for The First Post.

Foreign journalists who covered the September demonstrations and their aftermath – this correspondent included – have crossed, and continue to cross, into Burma posing as tourists. But Burmese embassies are urgently trying to clamp down on the practice.

Several journalists have reported problems obtaining visas, as Burmese embassies scrutinise every application. Two Japanese citizens suspected of being journalists were denied entry at Rangoon airport today. (The Japanese video cameraman famously shot by a Burmese soldier at the height of the September demonstrations had entered on a tourist visa, the government claimed at the time.)

Even diplomats and UN personnel are being kept waiting for visas, while Ministry of Information officials comb carefully through their applications. “The regime is clearly getting very nervous as May 10 approaches and opposition to the referendum and the draft constitution increases,” said a European diplomat in Bangkok.

The junta has every reason to be nervous, according to Bangkok Post writer Larry Jagan, reporting on a wave of demonstrations across Burma at the weekend. In Rangoon, about 20 monks led demonstrators in a march on the city’s Shwedagon Pagoda, central focus of September’s demonstrations. Police herded them away from the site without incident.

Other demonstrations were reported in the major Andaman Sea port of Sittwe and some other towns. Jagan quoted a Burmese businessman as saying: “The country is a social volcano, ready to erupt. All it needs is a spark to ignite it.”

Jagan, a seasoned Burma commentator, reported major splits within the ruling junta. “Gen Than Shwe‘s immediate subordinate, Gen Maung Aye, is increasingly disaffected with his boss, feeling that he is allowing rampant corruption to bankrupt the country,” he wrote.

Last September, Maung Aye was widely reported to be unhappy with the brutal way the regime suppressed the demonstrators. At one point during the crisis, a division of crack troops awaited his order to rebel – but the order never came.

FIRST POSTED APRIL 29, 2008

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

April 30, 2008 at 2:56 am

Factions within junta draw battle lines

leave a comment »

Bangkok Post, 26 March 2008

BURMA

Factions within junta draw battle lines

LARRY JAGAN

Tomorrow is Army Day in Burma _ the moment the country’s military leaders show a united front in a pompous ceremony in the new capital, Naypyidaw, that is held every year. The junta chief, Senior General Than Shwe, has imported another new Mercedes Benz to stand in as he leads the parade. He brought a new one in last year for the same occasion.

 

But underneath this show of unity is the start of a new battle for Burma’s future. This time it is not between the monks and the military, as it was last year, but between two factions in the army.

 

In the past few months a major rift has emerged within Burma’s military government over the country’s political future. At the centre of the conflict is who should control the roadmap _ Burma ‘s plans for political change.

 

The confrontation is now beginning to take shape _ between those who are currently in control of Burma’s government and the country’s economic wealth, and those who see themselves as the nation’s guardians and wish to protect the country from unscrupulous officials.

 

The junta is no longer cohesive and united, as two major camps have clearly emerged. On one side there are the ministers and members of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) who have major business interests and are associated with Gen Than Shwe’s brainchild, the mass community-based Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA).

 

On the other side are the top ranking generals _ loosely grouped around the second in command, General Maung Aye _ who want a professional army and see its main role as protector of the people.

 

They have become increasingly dismayed at the corruption within government and understand that it is undermining the army’s future role in the country.

 

As the war between these two groups begins to escalate, Gen Than Shwe’s rapidly deteriorating health has effectively left the country without a real leader. The result is total inertia in government administration and a growing fear that one of the contesting factions may launch a ”soft coup” in the near future, according to Burmese military sources.

 

But the ”real” army, as these officers under Gen Maung Aye view themselves, is going to have to act quickly if it is to remain a force to be reckoned with.

 

The planned referendum for May and the election in two years’ time will radically change the country’s political landscape.

 

The USDA, which is organising both the referendum and the elections, will significantly increase its power and control over the country’s new emerging political process.

 

Senior members of the army are increasingly resentful of the growing dominance of the USDA and the likely curtailment of the army’s authority after the May referendum. ”It will bring an abrupt end to the army’s absolute power,” said a Burmese government official.

 

At the centre of this emerging battle for supremacy is the growing division within the army between those who graduated from the Officers Training School (OTS) like Gen Than Shwe, and those who went to the Defence Services Academy (DSA) like Gen Maung Aye.

 

Many cabinet ministers associated with the USDA are from the OTS, as are several hardliners within the ruling SPDC, though some no longer have operational commands. These leaders are known to have the ear of Gen Than Shwe and have convinced him to take an uncompromising stand against detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD).

 

These key ministers, including Industry Minister Aung Thaung, Fisheries Minister Maung Maung Thein (who is also head of the powerful Myanmar Investment Commission), Construction Minister Saw Htun and Agriculture Minister Htay Oo (who is also a key leader of the USDA), are notorious hardliners and amongst the most corrupt members of the government.

 

They have all amassed huge personal fortunes from smuggling and kickbacks. ”These fellows are out of control and racking up the money from bribery and fraud _ not even Maung Aye, who despises excessive corruption, can touch them,” a Burmese military source told the Bangkok Post on condition of anonymity.

 

Everyone seems powerless to stop them at present, according to Burmese government sources. ”They are known as ‘the Nazis’ within the top ranks of the army,” according to a Burmese businessman with close links to the military hierarchy. ”They have the money and they have their own militia.”

 

Many in the army now fear that this group _ with some senior officers in the SPDC, current or former heads of the Bureau of Special Operations (BSO) _ are planning a grab for power using the USDA as a front. ”They are the real enemies of the people,” said the Burmese businessman.

 

There are growing numbers within the army that are viewing these developments with increasing concern. There is mounting resentment and frustration amongst the junior officers in Naypyidaw. Many of the junior officers are divisional commanders, aged between 47 and 55. These are the army’s ”young Turks”, who are alarmed at the way in which the USDA is growing in influence at the expense of the army.

 

”They are watching their unscrupulous colleagues, hiding behind the uniform, building up massive fortunes from corruption in government and they are worried that this tarnishes the image of the army,” said a source in Naypyidaw.

 

”It’s time to get rid of the OTS bastards,” an officer recently told a visiting businessman. But so far there are no signs of a palace coup. Many officers may feel aggrieved, but there is no open discussion as yet about doing anything in practice. ”The climate of fear that pervades the whole country is also prevalent in the military,” according to a Thai military intelligence officer.

 

This resentment is going to continue to simmer. They know that after the referendum in May their position will become increasingly less significant, as ministers and selected military generals move into the USDA and take up civilian roles in the future. At the same time they fear that widespread corruption will also destroy the country and its political stability.

 

”The ‘real’ army is the only institution that can bring genuine democracy to the country in the future,” a military man told the Bangkok Post. ”The new generation of officers represent the real hope for the country.” They would be open to a political dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi, he insisted, as they see themselves as the real guardians of the country.

http://www.bangkokpost.com/News/26Mar2008_news27.php 

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

March 26, 2008 at 4:18 pm

Splits emerge in Burma’s army over country’s roadmap

leave a comment »

(Analysis)

Larry Jagan
Mizzima News
March 21, 2008

There is a growing rift within Burma’s military government over the country’s political future and road-map to democracy. A battle is now beginning to emerge between those who are currently in control of most of Burma’s assets and those who see themselves as the country’s true guardians. Several key members of the ruling junta are secretly being investigated for corruption.

Once in State Peace and Development Council (File Photo:Mizzima)

The junta is no longer cohesive and united, as two major camps have clearly emerged. On one side there are the ministers and members of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) who have major business interests and are associated with Than Shwe’s brainchild, the mass community-based Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA).

On the other side are the top ranking generals, led by second in command Maung Aye, who want a professional army and see its main role as protector of the people. They have become increasingly dismayed at corruption within the government and understand that it is undermining the army’s future role in the country.

As the war between these two groups escalates, Senior General Than Shwe’s rapidly deteriorating health has effectively left the country without a real leader. The result is total inertia in government administration and a growing fear that one of the contesting factions may launch a “soft coup” in the near future, according to Burmese military sources.

But the “real” Army, as these officers view themselves, is going to have to act quickly if it is to remain a force to be reckoned with. The planned referendum for May and the election in two years time will radically change the country’s political landscape. The USDA, which is organising both the referendum and the elections, will significantly increase its power and control over the country’s new emerging political process.

Senior members of the army are increasingly resentful of the growing dominance of the USDA and the likely curtailment of the army’s authority after the referendum in May. “It will bring an abrupt end to the army’s absolute power,” said a Burmese government official.

At the center of this emerging battle for supremacy is the growing division within the Army between those who graduated from the Officers Training School (OTS) like Than Shwe, and those who went to the Defence Services Academy (DSA) like Maung Aye.

Many Cabinet ministers associated with the USDA are from the OTS, as are several hardliners within the ruling SPDC, though some no longer have operational commands. These leaders are known to have the ear of Than Shwe and have convinced him to take an uncompromising stand against detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD).

These key ministers, including Industry Minister Aung Thaung, Fisheries Minister Maung Maung Thein (who is also head of the powerful Myanmar Investment Commission), Construction Minister Saw Htun and Agriculture Minister Htay Oo (who is also a key leader of the USDA), are notorious hardliners and amongst the most corrupt members of the government.

They have all amassed huge personal fortunes from smuggling and kickbacks. “These fellows are out of control and racking up the money from bribery and fraud – not even Maung Aye, who despises excessive corruption, can touch them,” a Burmese military source told Mizzima on condition of anonymity.

They have been in government now for over eight years and are entrenched in their lifestyles and practises. Everyone seems powerless to stop them at present, according to Burmese government sources. “They are known as ‘the Nazis’ within the top ranks of the army,” according to a Burmese businessman with close links to the military hierarchy. “They have the money and they have their own militia,” he added.

Many in the army now fear that this group – with some senior officers in the SPDC, current or former heads of the Bureau of Special Operations (BSO) – are planning a grab for power using the USDA as a front. “They are the real enemies of the people,” said the Burmese businessman.

But there are now growing numbers within the army that are viewing these developments with increasing concern. There is mounting resentment and frustration amongst the junior officers in the Ministry of Defence in the new capital of Naypyitaw (Nay Pyi Taw).

Many of the junior officers are divisional commanders, aged between 47 and 55. These are the army’s “young Turks,” who are alarmed at the way in which the USDA is growing in influence at the expense of the army.

“They are watching their unscrupulous colleagues, hiding behind the uniform, building up massive fortunes from corruption in government and they are worried that this tarnishes the image of the army,” said a source in Naypyitaw.

“It’s time to get rid of the OTS bastards,” an officer recently told a visiting businessman. But so far there are no signs of a palace coup. Many officers may feel aggrieved, but there is no open discussion as yet about doing anything in practise. “The climate of fear that pervades the whole country is also prevalent in the military,” a Thai military intelligence officer told Mizzima.

“There is no doubt that many in the army are extremely unhappy with they way things are going, and are concerned about what will happen to them after the referendum and the elections,” he said. “But they are army officers, and will continue to obey their orders unquestioningly,” he said.

Yet there are now signs that the top few generals under Than Shwe may be beginning to form an informal alliance against the USDA leadership – and possibly Than Shwe himself. These are the deputy chief of the military, Maung Aye, Chief of Staff Thura Shwe Mann, Prime Minister Thein Sein and Secretary One of the SPDC, Tin Aung Myint Oo.

So far there is little to suggest that they are planning a purge of their opponents in the same way that former Prime Minister Khin Nyunt and his intelligence apparatus were crushed four years ago. “Nothing can be ruled out at this stage as resentment and anger is growing amongst the junior officers and rank-and-file soldiers,” said Win Min, an independent analyst based at Chiang Mai University.

But a pre-emptive strike against some of the key people in the USDA is definitely underway. Fisheries Minister Maung Maung Thein and the BSOs, Maung Bo and Ye Myint, are being secretly investigated by the Bureau of Special Investigations over bribery, kickbacks and illegal smuggling, a source inside the regime told Mizzima.

Maung Maung Thein and Maung Bo are under intense scrutiny for allegations of smuggling. At least 90 percent of the fish caught in Burmese waters are smuggled out through Thailand, especially Ranong, according to informed industry sources. Burma is estimated to be losing more than $500 million as a result.

For more than six months now the Myanmar Investment Commission, also controlled by Maung Maung Thein, has refused to grant import and export licenses to those in the construction industry to anyone not part of the USDA, according to Burmese businessmen. Licences granted for construction projects are crucial for the economy. For example, licenses are obtained to import cars and trucks theoretically needed for a construction project but instead sold for a massive profit.

Several other ministers and members of the SPDC and their families are also under investigation, according to government sources. Maung Maung Thein’s infamous son, Ko Pauk (Myint Thein) had his timber business dissolved a few weeks ago for malpractice. Maung Bo’s son’s business, the Hurricane Bar, is also under investigation concerning drugs.

There are many other businesses and businessmen affiliated with USDA members being investigated, including the Managing Director of Asia Light, Soe Myint.

This has not happened in the past and indicates the concern the top military commanders have about corruption and what it is doing to the army’s reputation. “It’s an effort to distinguish between the government or USDA and the army,” a senior military man told Mizzima.

Most of this is still behind closed doors. There is still no open confrontation between the two camps. In part that is because the SPDC quarterly meeting has been continuously postponed by Than Shwe for fear that it may open up a war between himself and his top subordinates.

One of the main reasons the ruling council has not met for more than nine months is that Than Shwe is trying to avoid the meeting as he knows Maung Aye will demand the resignations of at least four of the BSOs – including Maung Bo and Ye Myint. The last meeting reportedly ended when Maung Aye refused to accept Than Shwe’s recommendation that Maung Bo be promoted to a full general, according to Burmese military sources.

At least two of them have since been removed from their commands – Khin Maung Than and Maung Bo being replaced by Khin Saw and Tha Aye (both graduates of the DSA) and Myint Hlaing is soon expected to replace Tin Aye. However, although they no longer have operational command for their regions they remain on the SPDC, imposed by Than Shwe.

If these three BSA commanders and DSA officers also replaced their predecessors on the SPDC it would radically change the composition of the council. Four years ago, with the support of his OTS men, Than Shwe’s authority was unchallenged – but with these new promotions Maung Aye and Thura Shwe Mann would effectively control the SPDC.

As a result of the constant postponement of the SPDC quarterly meeting all promotions within the army have ground to a halt. “The top generals have not met [for the quarterly meeting] for months, since before the August and September protests. So during that time, apart from the appointment of three regional commanders, there have been no promotions,” said Win Min.

“The impact of this will certainly add to the growing frustration amongst some of the commanders who should have already been promoted,” he said.

Time is now running out for the top generals under Than Shwe if they are to take control.

They know that after the referendum in May their position will become increasingly less significant, as Ministers and selected military generals move into the USDA and take up civilian roles in the future. At the same time they fear that widespread corruption will also destroy the country and its political stability.

“The real Army is the only institution that can bring genuine democracy to the country in the future,” a military man told Mizzima. “The new generation of officers represent the real hope for the country.” They would be open to a political dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi, he insisted, as they see themselves as the real guardians of the country.

In the meantime, Than Shwe’s health is rapidly deteriorating and he is fast losing his memory. He is increasingly withdrawn and reclusive. His position is now becoming progressively more perilous, despite his carefully planned schemes, according to many specialists on Burma’s military.

“It is not worth risking a crisis when nature may solve it for us legally and peacefully,” Maung Aye recently told some of his close confidantes. But with the referendum only weeks away the army may yet have to move against the corrupt USDA lobby before it’s too late.

 

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

March 21, 2008 at 4:22 pm

Swansong visit for UN’s Myanmar envoy

leave a comment »

Swansong visit for UN’s Myanmar envoy
By Larry Jagan

BANGKOK – The United Nations special envoy to Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, has arrived in the country for the start of a four-day visit to discuss the military regime’s newly announced plans for political change, including a referendum on a new constitution later this year to be followed by democratic elections in 2010.

But while the senior envoy remains optimistic about his mission, his third trip to the country since last year’s brutal military crackdown on Buddhist monk-led mass demonstrations, the signs emerging from the military government are that Gambari’s visit could be a final courtesy call and mark the UN’s forced disengagement from the country’s political reform plans.

“I will continue to press the Myanmar government to engage with [jailed opposition leader] Aung San Suu Kyi in a substantive dialogue in order to produce a positive outcome that will promote an all-inclusive and transparent process,” Gambari told Asia Times Online by telephone from Singapore in transit to Myanmar.

Yet the military government’s newly announced plans for political change appear to leave the envoy with little room for maneuver during his talks with junta leaders – though he is expected to continue to press for Suu Kyi’s release and her involvement in the political transition from military to some form of democratic rule.

Gambari is scheduled to depart after four days in the country, though he will reportedly bid to extend his stay, according to sources close to the envoy. “Gambari hopes to stay as long as necessary,” UN spokeswoman Michele Montas told a press briefing in New York this week. Diplomatic pressure from both Beijing and New Delhi opened doors to his visit, according to diplomats familiar with the situation. The junta had originally told the UN envoy that they were not available to host him until after mid-April.

“It’s easy for the junta to agree to Gambari’s visit now, as he really has nothing to talk about,” a Bangkok-based diplomat, close to the international mediation efforts with the Myanmar government, told Asia Times Online on condition of anonymity. “[Senior General] Than Shwe’s decision to set a timetable for the roadmap was a strategic move to block both Maung Aye – his deputy – from assuming power later and the international community, especially Gambari, from playing a role in the process,” he added. Gambari is not expected to meet with Than Shwe during his visit, according to sources familiar with his itinerary.

Gambari, for his part, at least publicly, remains upbeat. “I will continue my consultations in Myanmar and follow up on a number of recommendations I left with the government during my last trip in November 2007,” he told Asia Times Online by telephone. “These include immediate steps to address the human rights situation; progress on time-bound dialogue between the government and Aung San Suu Kyi; the forthcoming referendum and the electoral process; economic and humanitarian issues; as well as a more regularized process of engagement with the [UN] secretary general’s good offices,” the envoy added.

Deaf junta ears
When Gambari visited Myanmar last November, he took a three-pronged approach to his mediation effort, sources close to the envoy say. First he asked to be involved in a constitutional review process after the National Convention had completed drawing up its guidelines; second he wanted to encourage the regime to make the national reconciliation process more inclusive and involve Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy political party; third he recommended that the government set up a Poverty Alleviation Committee.

Now, with the political change agenda unilaterally set by the junta, some analysts contend that the most Gambari can hope for is a UN role in the junta’s economic reform program. “The junta will ask him to approve the new constitution that has just been finalized, and give it credibility in the hope of deflecting further international pressure,” a government source said. “That’s what they would see as his role in any constitutional review process.”

According to a UN insider, Gambari was urged by the Chinese government when he visited Beijing last month to accept the junta’s new charter and its democratic roadmap’s plan to hold general elections. The UN envoy will likely be presented the freshly completed charter, the details of which have so far remained a closely guarded junta secret. Diplomats and opposition politicians contacted by Asia Times Online this week said universally that they had been unable to obtain a copy of the charter.

Gambari, similar to previous UN envoys to Myanmar who in the end have been spurned by the junta, faces an uphill task. The recommendations he made in November have in general been ignored, including his proposed confidence-building measures with the political National League for Democracy (NLD)-led opposition. To be fair, the regime did appoint a liaison minister, Labor Minister Aung Kyi, to meet regularly with opposition leader Suu Kyi. But the envoy’s recommendation that there be weekly discussions between the two has been sidestepped as there have only been half-a-dozen meetings since he was appointed over five months ago.

Even more crucially, Gambari’s suggestion that if there is to be a genuine dialogue process it was essential for the detained Suu Kyi to meet other NLD members – especially the party’s central executive committee – fell on deaf junta ears. The opposition leader has only been allowed to meet NLD members twice since Gambari’s last visit, though she has been allowed to exchange daily messages with party leaders, according to senior party sources.

During Gambari’s two trips to Myanmar last year, Suu Kyi asked the envoy to try to persuade the regime to allow her regular contact with a liaison officer representing the UN and international community. This was very successful the last time Suu Kyi was under house arrest and she held secret reconciliation talks with the regime in 2003, which were under the supervision of former intelligence chief General Khin Nyunt.

Communication breakdowns
According to UN sources, Gambari had asked for this communication channel to be restored, as well as permission for him to set up his own office in Yangon. To date there has been no progress on that request, though Gambari told Asia Times Online it would be among the issues he raises with the regime during his trip. However, Gambari is not expected to make much headway on these confidence-building measures, let alone on the more substantive issue of Suu Kyi’s and the NLD’s participation in the junta’s plan to hold multi-party elections in 2010.

“We have been very consistent in saying that the recent announcement by the authorities of the referendum on the government constitution in May, and elections that will lead to a multi-party democracy in 2010, are a potentially significant step,” Gambari told journalists in Jakarta recently. “But all the same, this process has to be credible and has to be all-inclusive,” he said.

Central to that objective is Suu Kyi’s release from house arrest. In previous discussions between Gambari’s UN predecessor, Razali Ismail, the then-prime minister and military intelligence chief General Khin Nyunt had agreed that she would be freed after the new constitution was ratified, according to sources close to Razali at the time.

Diplomats monitoring the situation now, however, anticipate the earliest the junta might release her is after the 2010 elections have been held. “The junta do not plan to release her in the near future and are almost certain to detain her until after the elections. Only then do they see a role for her in helping with economic reform,” an Asian diplomat who has regular contact with the regime leaders said.

Gambari is expected to push for a renewed commitment from the junta for her release after the constitutional referendum in May. Gambari told Asia Times Online he would certainly raise the issue of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning opposition leader’s continued detention and her participation in the proposed elections in 2010.

However he will likely be pushing his points on lower-ranking junta officials – and notably not junta leader Than Shwe. “Than Shwe is still furious at Gambari because he smuggled out a letter from Aung San Suu Kyi [which he made public in Singapore on his way back to New York to report to the UN secretary general] last time,” claims the Chiang Mai-based Myanmar academic Win Min.
According to Asian diplomats in contact with Myanmar government officials, junta leaders felt the release of the letter broke with diplomatic protocols. The crux of the matter, though, is that junta leaders remain convinced that Gambari is too close to the United States, a view many regional diplomats endorse. “He is constantly consulting [US First Lady] Laura Bush. She seems to be running policy, not the UN – or that’s how it appears to Than Shwe,” said an Asian diplomat.

Myanmar’s leaders are also reportedly disappointed with the envoy because they feel he has not produced anything in return for their reluctant engagement with the international community. Instead, from the junta’s perspective, the US and European Union proceeded to impose new financial sanctions against the regime in response to its armed crackdown on last year’s street demonstrations.

The junta has since hinted in various ways that the UN envoy’s mediating mission has hit a dead end. Government censors have in recent weeks spiked stories in the local press that mentioned Gambari by name or alluded to UN mediation efforts in other global hot spots.

That included a proposed article in the local Myanmar Times which reported that Prime Minister Thein Sein and Gambari were both coincidentally in Cambodia last December, according to Western diplomats close to the paper’s editors. Last month when UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon and his predecessor Kofi Annan mediated Kenya’s political crisis, a foreign news agency article on the subject in the Myanmar Times was also banned by state censors.

Closer to home, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which unlike the US and the European Union has in recent years bid to diplomatically engage the junta, during a retreat for foreign ministers earlier this month stressed that the 2010 elections must be free and fair. “[Myanmar Foreign Minister] Nyan Win was told in no uncertain terms that while the referendum was considered a domestic matter – it was essential that is was a credible process,” according to a Southeast Asian diplomat who was in attendance at the meeting.

Yet Gambari will likely find delivering even this broad brushstroke message hard-going. “Sometimes, I myself am frustrated that the tangible results are not faster or we have not achieved more,” Gambari told Asia Times Online. “But we have to build on what we have and continue to press for more results … For me, failure is not an option.”

If only Myanmar’s junta concurred.

Larry Jagan previously covered Myanmar politics for the British Broadcasting Corporation. He is currently a freelance journalist based in Bangkok.

(Copyright 2008 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing .)

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Southeast_Asia/JC07Ae03.html 

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

March 6, 2008 at 4:26 pm

A ‘final courtesy call’ on the junta

leave a comment »

ANALYSIS / BURMA : UN MEDIATION EFFORTS
Wednesday February 27, 2008

A ‘final courtesy call’ on the junta

Burma’s generals have agreed to let the UN envoy visit again but there is little likelihood of anything being achieved

By LARRY JAGAN

The United Nations Special Envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, is expected to return to the country in a few days’ time to discuss the military regime’s plans for political change. The junta had originally told the envoy they could not host him until after the middle of April. But in the past two weeks the Burmese government has finished drafting the country’s new constitution, and announced plans to hold a referendum in May and new elections in 2010.

This appears to leave the envoy with little left to do while he is there _ though he will certainly press for the release of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Mr Gambari is expected to arrive in Rangoon on the weekend after visiting Tokyo, according to UN sources who do not wish to be identified. The Burmese authorities have agreed to allow Mr Gambari to visit Burma in the first few days of March, according to a Chinese diplomat in the region. Mr Gambari himself remains coy about the forthcoming visit, but told journalists in Jakarta last week that he was hopeful of visiting Burma in the first week of March.

”Beijing and Delhi have both been pushing the Burmese leaders to allow Gambari back as soon as possible,” an Indian diplomat told the Bangkok Post recently on condition of anonymity. ”The generals couldn’t really ignore the strong advice of their two biggest neighbours,” he said.

Last week Mr Gambari held discussions in Beijing with senior Chinese officials, including the foreign minister, on Burma and was assured of their support.

But the military government’s recent announcement that it plans to hold democratic elections in two years’ time, after conducting a referendum on the new constitution in May, effectively puts an end to Mr Gambari’s mission.

”It’s easy for the junta to agree to Gamabri’s visit now, as he really has nothing to talk about,” said a Bangkok-based diplomat close to the international mediation efforts with the Burmese military.

”Than Shwe’s decision to set a timetable for the roadmap was a strategic move to block both Maung Aye _ his deputy _ from assuming power later and the international community, especially Gambari, from playing a role in the process,” he added.

When Mr Gambari visited Burma last time, in November, he had a three-pronged approach. He asked to the be involved in a constitutional review process after the National Convention had completed drawing up the guidelines; he wanted to encourage the regime to make the national reconciliation process more inclusive and involve pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy; and to set up a Poverty Alleviation Committee.

Mr Gambari is currently on a trip to the region in preparation for his forthcoming visit to Burma. The envoy has been encouraged by the response of India, China, Indonesia and Singapore.

”What is important is for us is to work together with them [the military government], with the neighbouring countries, with Asean and the international community to enhance the credibility of this constitutional process, and to make national reconciliation more inclusive,” Mr Gambari said in Jakarta after meeting the Indonesian president and foreign minister.

At best, Mr Gambari has now been left with a limited role _ possibly in helping with economic reform. ”The junta will ask him to approve the new constitution that has just been finalised, and give it credibility in the hope of deflecting further international pressure,” a government source said. ”That’s what they would see his role as in any constitutional review process.”

Mr Gambari is likely to be shown a copy of the new constitution, which so far has been difficult to find. Diplomats and opposition politicians contacted by the Bangkok Post last week said they had been unable to obtain one.

The government officially announced the constitution was now ready for the referendum two weeks ago.

”The drafting committee completed the constitution in mid-December,” said a Burmese government source. But it had been held under wraps while Senior General Than Shwe mulled over what to do next.

It is very clear now that Gen Than Shwe has never had any intention of making the national conciliation process inclusive. There was never a role for Aung San Suu Kyi or the NLD. So any efforts by Mr Gambari on this issue are destined to be rebuffed entirely, despite the envoy’s insistence that this must be a key part of his next mission.

”We have been very consistent in saying that the recent announcement by the authorities of the referendum on the government constitution in May, and elections that will lead to a multi-party democracy in 2010, are a potentially significant step,” Mr Gambari told journalists in Jakarta.

”But all the same, this process has to be credible and has to be all-inclusive. This will continue to be stressed in our conversation with the authorities in Myanmar,” Mr Gambari told a press briefing after meeting Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

In reality the key issue that remains unresolved and which Mr Gambari may be able to help in, is the question of Aung San Suu Kyi’s release. When will the opposition leader be released from house arrest? In previous discussions between Mr Gambari’s predecessor, the UN envoy Razali Ismail, the prime minister and military intelligence chief (General Khin Nyunt at the time) it was believed she would be freed after the constitution was ratified, according to sources close to Mr Razali at the time.

Mr Gambari is expected to push for a renewed commitment from the junta that she will be released soon after the referendum in May. In Indonesia, Mr Gambari told reporters he would certainly raise the issue of Daw Suu Kyi’s continued detention and her participation in the proposed elections in 2010.

The main problem for the UN envoy is that he is likely to be given access only to lower level officials.

”Than Shwe is still furious at Gambari because he smuggled out a letter from Aung San Suu Kyi [which he made public in Singapore on his way back to New York to report to the UN secretary-general] last time,” the Chiang Mai-based Burmese academic Win Min said. ”He didn’t see Gambari then, and Than Shwe is even less inclined to meet him this time.”

This is something sources close to the UN envoy admit is almost certain to be the case again. It is even possible he will be denied access to Daw Suu Kyi and the opposition.

”As long as Gambari is able to stress the international community’s concerns to the generals _ and Than Shwe hears it, even if it’s second hand _ that will be an important measure of whether this forthcoming trip is a success or not,” said Zin Linn, spokesman for the Burmese opposition abroad.

The planned referendum must be ”free and fair” and international election monitors allowed to observe the process, he said. Daw Suu Kyi must be freed as soon as possible and allowed to participate in the forthcoming elections; and the NLD must be allowed to stand in the elections without restrictions or harassment.

”The junta must be under no illusions; only a credible vote will satisfy the international community,” according to a Rangoon-based Western diplomat.

The Asean foreign ministers at their retreat in Singapore earlier this month stressed the same message. ”Nyan Win [the Burmese foreign minister] was told in no uncertain terms that while the referendum was considered a domestic matter _ it was essential that is was a credible process,” according to a Southeast Asian diplomat who was at the meeting.

But Mr Gambari may find even delivering this message hard going. The Burmese junta has hinted in several ways that the UN envoy and the UN as a whole has no further role to play in Burma’s national reconciliation process or the proposed political reforms.

But the UN envoy remains upbeat and insists his job is to continue to push ahead even in the face of overwhelming obstacles.

”Sometimes, I myself am frustrated that the tangible results are not faster or we have not achieved more, but we have to build on what we have and continue to press for more results,” Mr Gambari said.

While the envoy remains optimistic, the signs from the regime are that Mr Gambari’s next trip to Burma is likely only to be a final courtesy call.

http://www.bangkokpost.com/News/27Feb2008_news15.php

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

February 27, 2008 at 6:43 am

Posted in Varieties in English

Tagged with , ,

West beats Burma drum without purpose or strategy

leave a comment »

Bangkok Post, February 2, 2008

ANALYSIS / BURMA

West beats Burma drum without purpose or strategy

By LARRY JAGAN

The international community is stepping up pressure on Burma’s military regime to introduce economic and political change as soon as possible. At the same time, UN envoy to Burma Ibrahim Gambari and the European Union are pressing Asian nations to intervene and encourage the junta to listen to the international appeals for reform.

The EU and the United States have recently renewed calls for the immediate release of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest in Rangoon.

”I hope The Lady [Aung San Suu Kyi] can be free as soon as possible,” EU special envoy on Burma Piero Fassino said earlier this week. ”There can be no real talks between the junta and the opposition if a key player is not free to talk to her party and the public.”

But the EU is also threatening to increase sanctions against the junta if there is no tangible progress in the next three months.

”If Mr Gambari is not allowed back into the country, or fails to achieve anything concrete when he’s there, the EU will have no alternative but to consider increasing sanctions against the junta,” Mr Fassino said.

”The West has now turned to Asia to get them out of a hole on the Burma issue,” a senior Southeast Asian diplomat said.

”They expect us to pressure the Burmese government on their behalf, without giving us anything in return.

”Force will not achieve anything with Burma’s military leaders _ they will only recede further into their shell and ignore the international appeals,” the diplomat added. ”The West should certainly not increase sanctions at this stage, and in fact should consider easing them.”

At present, the West’s main hope of engaging the junta seems to rest on the efforts of the UN secretary-general’s special adviser to Burma, the Nigerian diplomat Gambari. He made two crucial visits to Burma in 2007, the last in November. The EU in particular sees its efforts on Burma as supporting the UN’s plans.

”Our strategy is to promote dialogue [in Burma] that will realise national reconciliation, dialogue that will realise democratic transition,” said Mr Fassino. ”This goal will be achieved by discussions with the countries of Asia and the promotion of the UN’s initiatives through Mr Gambari.”

But despite frequent requests to return in the past 10 weeks, Mr Gambari has been continually refused a visa.

The junta has told him they are too busy and preoccupied to see him until after Thingyan, the Buddhist New Year (Burmese Songkran) in mid-April.

Many diplomats in Rangoon fear Mr Gambari may already have made his last trip to Burma _ or if he is allowed in he will not be able to achieve anything. ”If Mr Gambari is permitted to visit Burma in the next months, it’s almost certain he will not meet the top general, Than Shwe, making his mission meaningless,” according to a Western diplomat based in Rangoon.

The junta is clearly in no mood to cooperate with the UN at present. Apart from throwing the UN resident coordinator, Charles Petrie, out of the country two months ago, the regime is playing hardball with the organisation on the ground inside Burma.

Several important UN-sponsored field visits for diplomats (whose countries fund projects) have been cancelled. A trip planned for last week by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to eastern Rakhine (Arakan) state, where Burmese Muslim refugees had been repatriated after earlier fleeing to Bangladesh to escape persecution, was cancelled at the last moment _ the first time since the annual trip started more than 15 years ago.

A UNAids trip planned for later this month has also been postponed at short notice. Many UN officials who oversee programmes and projects in Burma and are based in Bangkok have been denied visas. Members of the UN’s main humanitarian organisation OCHA (the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance) have been refused access to Burma for several months, ever since the crackdown on the monk-led anti-inflation protest last year.

Mr Gambari has just been in New Delhi for talks on Burma with the Indian government. He is now on his way back to New York, before heading to Beijing for further discussions with senior Chinese leaders. He had hoped to fly directly from Delhi to Beijing but the Chinese authorities postponed the trip until early February because of the Chinese New Year holiday.

But with the Gambari process almost dead, the UN will have to find another way to engage the Burmese regime.

”Clearly the junta, or particularly Than Shwe, has had enough of the UN. The only option left is for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon himself to visit Burma as soon as possible,” a UN official close to Mr Gambari said.

Failing that, it is only the countries of Asia who can influence the Burmese regime.

”The nations of Asia _ China, India, Thailand and the other countries of Asean _ can play an important and strategic role,” said Mr Fassino, the EU envoy.

”The international community must understand that we hate megaphone diplomacy and it will not encourage us to do anything,” Maj-Gen Kyaw Win, Burma’s former deputy chief of military intelligence, told the Bangkok Post several years ago when General Khin Nyunt was prime minister, before he was dismissed and put under house arrest.

The EU envoy, and for that matter the West, is engaged in megaphone diplomacy, which will only alienate the regime rather than encourage them on the path to political reform.

http://www.bangkokpost.com/News/02Feb2008_news10.php

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

February 2, 2008 at 11:08 am