Friday, October 26, 2007

Aung San Suu Kyi Meets Burmese Minister

Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has held her first meeting with the senior military official appointed to liaise with her.She spent just over an hour with former general Aung Kyi, state media said.Aung Kyi was given the task of liaising between the government and Ms Suu Kyi earlier this month, in an apparent concession to international pressure.

Previous attempts to build dialogue between the military and Ms Suu Kyi - the head of the National League for Democracy party - have come to nothing. Senior military generals are reported to find even the mention of her name distasteful, and she has spent 12 of the past 18 years under house arrest.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Preliminary Key Findings of a Joint FIDH-ITUC Mission on Burma

Paris-Brussels, 23 October 2007: After the September crackdown on peaceful protests in Burma, the International Trade Unions Confederation (ITUC) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) decided to send a joint international fact-finding mission on the Thai border with Burma to collect first-hand information on the wave of repression. The objective was also to discuss with Burmese pro-democracy and human rights groups about possible international strategies to contribute to the democratization of the country.

The mission, composed of four members from Australia, Belgium, and Thailand, stayed in Bangkok and on the Thai-Burma border from October 13 to 21. The mission did not travel to Rangoon or central Burma as the risks involved for the people interviewed would have been too high.

“We interviewed 13 persons who participated in the protests in Burma and subsequently had to flee to Thailand. They could not live safely anymore in Burma as they had been followed, their homes raided, and their pictures distributed”, said Alison Tate, mission delegate representing ITUC.

“While no accurate and verifiable number of deaths or wounded can be given at this stage, we can assert that the repression was brutal and systematic. Most of the participants witnessed people being shot dead, as well as persons beaten to death”, said Gaëtan Vanloqueren, FIDH mission member and Actions Birmanie spokesperson. It is the first time that the monks have been a direct target of repression. “Arrests are still taking place. The regime is now taking family members in hostage when the searched persons are not at home. SPDC is conducting widespread arbitrary arrests in Rangoon and elsewhere”, he added.

People and organisations met by the FIDH/ITUC mission believe that the SPDC is not genuinely committed to a process of political dialogue. “The regime is trying to save time in order for the media attention to phase down. This is the stalling tactics the regime has played over the years. Than Shwe’s proposal came with unacceptable preconditions placed on Aung San Suu Kyi at a time when large-scale arrests and other repressive measures are still on-going”, said Olivier De Schutter, Secretary General of FIDH. All organizations mentioned that the top priority for a genuine dialogue is the release of all political prisoners, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Ko Ming Ko Naing. Gambari’s mission cannot be a success without increased pressure from the international community “The international community must establish benchmarks and a timeframe for the coming year, and assess progress every month” said Guy Ryder, General Secretary of the ITUC.

“Negative signals to the SPDC need to be combined with signs of encouragement to the Burmese people” added the mission delegates Vanloqueren and Tate. All organizations from the Burmese democratic movement in exile repeated their call for immediate sanctions on trade and investment in the three ’milkcow’ economic sectors that provide vital support to the military regime (oil and gas, timber and mining, including gems and minerals). While Burma saw a 2000% increase in FDI between 1995 and 2005, 95% of the population lives with less than 1$ day, and 90% with less than 0.65$ a day. “Sanctions hurt the regime and the crony elite, not the people, living from agriculture or the informal economy” mission delegates were told many times. Economic sanctions from the EU, whilst not as impactful as a freezing of Burma-China or Burma-ASEAN trade, are seen by Burmese democrats as a moral issue and a positive signal to the people living inside Burma.

The organisations met by the mission also discuss and consider ways to bring the SPDC generals to account for the crimes they committed. Most interviewed persons thought increased pressure would help, not hurt the existing possibilities of political dialogue. The root causes of the protests have not been addressed. The fuel price rise, the widespread violations of economic and social rights as well as the severe restrictions on civil liberties, the lack of rule of law and the impunity of the authorities are fueling the desire for change more than ever.

If “this is not over”, as told by a Burmese resident who participated the protests, there is an urgent need for the international community to seize the opportunity As noted by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, “Dictatorships are not eternal”. She also said, “Please use your liberty to promote ours”. More than ever, these two quotes need to be read together: third countries can play a role to accelerate the transition towards democracy.

Availability for interviews :

Olivier De Schutter : +32 (0) 2.640.42.95
Gaëtan Vanloqueren : +32 (0) 472.331.7

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Aung San Suu Kyi Day -Organise a Protest for the 24th October

October 24th has been designated Aung San Suu Kyi day.

Aung San Suu Kyi is the democratically elected leader of Burma, on the 24th she will have been under house arrest for 12 years.

To mark this at 12 noon in 12 key cities around the world 12 people will come together wearing Aung San Suu Kyi masks and dressed in white to protest outside Chinese embassies. Why China? Because they can exert the most influence over Burma and so far they have been dragging their feet. Why White? Because that's what political prisoners in Burma are made to wear. The 12 peaceful protestors will be chained together.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Burma lifts Curfew

Today Myanmar's military junta lifted the curfew imposed in the country's main city Yangon last month after a crackdown on mass protests.The announcement was made by loudspeaker trucks driving through the streets of Yangon. It was not clear if a ban on assembly of more than five people had also been relaxed.It was not immediately known if a curfew in the central city of Mandalay, which also saw mass demonstrations against the junta, had been lifted as well.

Authorities say 10 people were killed when the army crushed the huge protests, which began as small demonstrations against fuel price rises in August and escalated as Buddhist monks joined in. Western governments say the true death toll is probably far higher.

Currently United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari is touring Asia to seek a common approach to persuading the generals to compromise with Suu Kyi, who has spent nearly 12 of the last 18 years in detention. Junta leader Than Shwe has agreed to meet Suu Kyi if she gives up key positions, but military government has shown no sign of deviating from its 7-step "roadmap to democracy" which critics deride as a sham to keep the generals in power.

Slaughter: Executed monks have been dumped in the jungle

During the recent visit by the UN speical envoy to burma in which he was trying to broker peace, the junta's security forces lightened their presence in Yangon, the country's main city, which remained quiet after troops and police brutally quelled mass protests last week. The 9 pm -to-5 am curfew was scaled back to 10 pm to 4 am. Kept off the streets, many residents launched a new form of protest Monday evening by switching off their lights and turning off television sets from 8 pm - 8.15 pm during the nightly government newscast.

Dissident groups say up to 200 protesters were killed and 6,000 detained in the crackdown, compared to the regime's report of 10 deaths. "Normalcy has now returned in Myanmar," Foreign Minister Nyan Win told the UN General Assembly in New York in a recent address, adding that security forces acted with restraint for a month but had to "take action to restore the situation." Nyan Win made no reference to the deaths. Instead, he blamed foreigners for the violence. "Recent events make clear that there are elements within and outside the country who wish to derail the ongoing process (toward democracy) so that they can take advantage of the chaos that would follow," Nyan Win said.

"They have become more and more emboldened and have stepped up their campaign to confront the government," he said.
"The destiny of each and every country can only be determined by its government and people," he said. "It cannot be imposed from outside." Nyan Win's comments indicated that the junta would not give up its hardline position and is willing to thumb its nose at international demands to restore democracy and free pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. In Rangoon, despite agreeing to see Gambari, the generals continued posting troops and police across the city and dispatching pro-junta gangs to raid homes in search of monks and dissidents on the run. "They are going from apartment to apartment, shaking things inside, threatening the people. You have a climate of terror all over the city," a Bangkok-based Myanmar expert said.

The plight of the monks who brought the protests to the burmese capital Rangoon.

Many of the remaining detained monks have been disrobed and shackled, according to sources quoted by BBC Radio's Burmese service. The reports follow claims from a former intelligence officer in Burma's ruling junta that thousands of protesters have been killed and the bodies of hundreds of executed monks have been dumped in the jungle. Public anger ignited on August 19 after the government increased fuel prices, then shifted into protests led by Buddhist monks against 45 years of military dictatorship.

The most senior official to defect so far, Hla Win, said: "Many more people have been killed in recent days than you've heard about. The bodies can be counted in several thousand." Mr Win said he fled when he was ordered to take part in a massacre of holy men. His defection will raise a faint hope among tens of thousands of Burmese who have fled to villages along the Thai border. They will feel others in the army may follow him and turn on their ageing leaders, Senior General Than Shwe and his deputy, Vice Senior General Maung Aye.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Take Action Now -Burma : No Clean hands for Foreign Business

IUSY is asking all member organisations is supporting the lobby to ask multinationals in Burma to 'Leave Now'. IUSY is encouraging member organisations to write to all multinational companies known or suspected of having business links to Burma to pull out of the country and “stop propping up the brutal regime”, and is calling on governments to extend economic sanctions to cover all economic sectors. While numerous foreign companies have ceased doing business with Burma, under pressure from the international trade union movement and human rights and democracy groups, many multinational companies still have relations with the military dictatorship.

Burma’s economy is built on absolute repression of its workforce, with the use of forced labour still rife in the country despite international pressure on the regime to respect fundamental rights. The case for full and effective sanctions is now absolutely compelling, and any company which does not withdraw voluntarily must be made to do so by governments and international and regional organisations including the United Nations and the European Union. The international trade union movement have for many years called on the EU to include Burmese state monopolies covering gas, oil, mining, tropical woods and precious stones in the list of companies with which EU-based multinationals are forbidden to do business.

Top of the list are several key multinationals with well-documented business links to Burma, including Caterpillar (USA), China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC), China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), Daewoo International Corporation (Korea), Siemens (Germany), Gas Authority of India (GAIL), GlaxoSmithKline (UK ), Hyundai (Korea), ONGC Videsh Ltd (India), Swift (Belgium), and Total (France).

Military aid will be a special focus of this campaign action, which will also look closely at the junta’s growing economic links with India, China and several other countries. India’s trade for example has grown from some US$ 341 million in 2004-5 to $650 million the following year, with a target of US$ 1billion set for 2006-7.

UN envoy Condemns Burma Arrests

UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari has described as "extremely disturbing" new arrests in Burma, calling on the ruling junta to stop detaining democracy activists.
Several prominent Burmese student leaders were arrested over the weekend. He was speaking in Thailand as EU foreign ministers were preparing to meet in Luxembourg to discuss tougher sanctions against the junta.

At their monthly meeting, the EU foreign ministers are expected to ban imports of gemstones, timber and metals from Burma, as well as voicing their support for Mr Gambari's mission. Burma's generals already face an EU travel ban and a freeze on assets.

BBC European affairs correspondent Oana Lungescu says the generals can now expect fresh embargoes on some of their more lucrative exports - including jade, rubies and teak. However, European sanctions have had practically no impact on Burma, as more than 90% of the country's trade is with its Asian neighbours, she says. The new measures will not prevent the French energy giant Total from doing business with the junta, though diplomats say that may come later.