Tag Archive for 'junta'

Chief censor in Myanmar caps his red pen

Thomas Fuller in NYT:

His office was once the site of an interrogation center run by Japan’s feared military police during World War II. And that is how U Tint Swe got his nickname: the literary torturer.

 “We didn’t arrest or torture anyone, but we had to torture their writing,” Mr. Tint Swe said, his serious expression yielding to a faint smile.

 Mr. Tint Swe was Myanmar’s last censor in chief, the powerful arbiter of what the public would read — and what was deleted from official history.

 For nearly five decades, military governments here examined every book, every article, each illustration, photo or poem before printing. It was a crucial exercise for the military, which sought control over nearly every facet of citizens’ lives.

 The censorship office, known by the Orwellian title of Press Scrutiny and Registration Division, infuriated generations of authors. Censors returned manuscripts with red lines through entire passages. Often they banned books or articles altogether. Any whiff of dissent toward the military or suggestion of government corruption was removed. Burma, the old name of the country, was deleted in favor of Myanmar, the name preferred by the military junta. More:

A reporter ‘friends’ his censor

Thomas Fuller in IHT:

I wandered into the room where foreign newspapers are “scrutinized” and was greeted effusively by Khaing Thazin Htwe, a smiling young woman with long hair and bangs in a pretty white embroidered shirt.

She was the person responsible for reading the IHT every day, paying special attention to the articles on Myanmar — my articles.

It was a surreal, Wizard of Oz moment. I had expected to peer behind the curtain and see an ill-tempered older man with thick glasses, a green eyeshade and a permanent scowl.

But Ms. Khaing Thazin Htwe could not have been more friendly and earnest. Her purple and turquoise name card was decorated with a heart. We chatted like old pals and exchanged Facebook information.

I told her I would friend her. More:

Suu Kyi party’s landslide win in Burma election

AP report:

Aung San Suu Kyi’s party claimed today she has won a seat in Burma’s parliament after a landmark election, setting the stage for the pro-democracy leader to hold public office for the first time.

The victory, if confirmed, marks a major milestone in the south-east Asian nation, where the military has ruled almost exclusively for half a century and where the government is now seeking legitimacy and a lifting of Western sanctions.

Today’s by-election was called to fill just 45 vacant seats in Burma’s 664-seat national parliament and will not change the balance of power in a new government that is nominally civilian but still heavily controlled by retired generals.

Ms Suu Kyi and other opposition candidates would have almost no say even if they win all the seats they are contesting. But her candidacy has resurrected hope among Burma’s downtrodden masses, who have grown up for generations under strict military rule. If Ms Suu Kyi takes office as expected, it would symbolise a giant leap towards national reconciliation.

Prashant Jha in The Hindu:

Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) are set to sweep the historic by-elections held in Myanmar on Sunday for 45 parliamentary seats.

After a day of peaceful voting, interspersed with some allegations of irregularities, the NLD said Ms. Suu Kyi won her seat of Kawhmu on the city outskirts. While the official results are not expected for a few days, the party, based on reports sent in by its representatives from counting centres in different townships, has claimed a landslide win.

Hannah Beech in Time:

On April 1, Burmese went to the voting booths for just the third time in more than half a century. At stake were fewer than 50 parliamentary seats being contested out of 664 total. But this small by-election was the first time that the National League for Democracy (NLD), the country’s beloved opposition force, was participating in the political process since 1990 polls, which the party won by a landslide only to have the military regime ignore the people’s will. With reforms blossoming across the country after a hybrid civilian-military government took office last year, ordinary Burmese were reveling in the chance to vote for the party led by Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

 

Suu Kyi the movie

The story of Aung San Suu Kyi’s life is being translated in film as The Lady, starring Michelle Yeoh. From Time:

On Nov. 13, Burmese democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi walked free from seven years of house arrest in Rangoon. She called her son Kim Aris. She greeted supporters outside her lakeside home. Then she got on a plane to Bangkok where, on a stage erected in a parking lot on the city’s outskirts, she appeared in a film made by a bearded Frenchman called Luc Something.

That’s what some of the 2,000 Thai extras on the set of Luc Besson’s latest movie seem to think, and their confusion is forgivable. Since filming of his biopic The Lady began in Thailand in mid-October, everyone from Besson to best boy has been perplexed by how often art has imitated life — and vice versa.

Take Malaysian-born actress Michelle Yeoh, the former Bond girl who plays Suu Kyi. Yeoh not only strongly resembles the lissome Nobel laureate, but also occupies the part so convincingly that Besson calls it “perfect for her.” “From the moment I saw this actress,” says Thein Win, a Burmese actor playing a member of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), “I thought, ‘She is Daw [Aunt] Suu.’”

Movie magic and reality merged again when the junta finally allowed Suu Kyi to walk free. Besson had just re-created her release from a previous spell of house arrest, when she steps out of her Rangoon home to cheers from a crowd of supporters. Two days later, Besson and his cast sat in Yeoh’s Bangkok hotel suite to watch a near identical scene — this one for real — play out on TV. “It was surreal,” says Besson. Also in the room was Aris, chatting on the phone to his mother: “I’m here with Michelle. Yes, the woman playing you.” Then the champagne started flowing. “It was so sweet,” says Yeoh. “We were all very privileged to share that moment with him.” More:

First still pictures here.

WikiLeaks cables: Burma general considered Manchester United buyout

From The Guardian:

The leader of Burma’s military junta considered making a $1bn (£634m) bid to buy Manchester United football club around the time it was facing rising anger from the United Nations over its “unacceptably slow” response to cyclone Nargis.Than Shwe, commander in chief of the armed forces and a fan of United, was urged to mount a takeover bid by his grandson, according to a cable from the US embassy in Rangoon. It details how the regime was thought to be using football to distract its population from ongoing political and economic problems.

The proposal was made prior to January 2009; only months earlier, in May 2008, the Burmese junta had been accused of blocking vital international aid supplies after Nargis struck, killing 140,000 people.

Than Shwe reportedly concluded that making a bid for United might “look bad” at the time, but the revelation that the proposal was even considered is likely to fuel criticism of the regime’s cruelty. The senior general instead ordered the creation of a new multimillion dollar national football league at the same time as aid agencies were reporting that one year on, many survivors of the cyclone still lacked permanent housing, access to clean water, and tools for fishing and agriculture. More:

India, Burma and Suu Kyi

Pramit Pal Chaudhuri in Hindustan Times:

PV Narasimha Rao as Prime Minister is said to have made the decision to reverse India’s support for the elected but never enthroned ruler of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi. It was not a decision lightly made: national interest in its hardest form shaped his view. Kashmir was in flames, India had to denude the Northeast of troops, but doing so would give free rein to the Naga insurgency. The solution: persuade the generals in Yangon (earlier Rangoon) to deny the rebels safe haven. Their price: end India’s support for Suu Kyi.

The episode was representative of two strands of New Delhi’s Look Near East Policy. One, the most important stake India has in Myanmar is its role in the stability and, one day, full integration of the northeastern states into the Indian milieu. Two, India believes a policy of quiet engagement with Myanmar eventually yields results.

India has little patience for the international community’s Myanmar caricature. There is Suu Kyi, the Democratic Beauty. There are the generals, the Despotic Beasts. And in between there are only rapacious Chinese businessmen, ethnic freedom fighters and gentle Buddhist monks.

Myanmar is a matter of greater nuance.

One, Suu Kyi and the generals are two sides of the dominant ethnic Burmese elite. If the junta has kept her alive, it is because they still see her, daughter of the late comrade-in-arms Aung San, as someone they can do business with. The real question has been: under what circumstances do we talk? More:

Aung San Suu Kyi aims for peaceful revolution

From BBC:

Two days after being freed from house arrest, pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has said that her aim is for a peaceful revolution in Burma.

Speaking to the BBC at the headquarters of her National League for Democracy, she said she was sure democracy would come to Burma eventually, although she did not know how long it would take.

She said she would take any opportunity to speak to ruling generals.

Her release came six days after Burma held its first election in 20 years.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won the last election overwhelmingly but was never allowed to take power.

This poll was won by the biggest military-backed party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), but denounced by the West as being neither free nor fair. More:

Aung San Suu Kyi keeps her people, and the junta, waiting one more night

Jack Davies in Rangoon in The Guardian:

After seven years under house arrest and 15 of the last 21 incarcerated in some form by Burma’s military regime, Aung San Suu Kyi today chose one last night of imprisonment so that she might walk truly free.

As speculation over her imminent release reached fever pitch in her home city of Rangoon, word spread that military officials had visited her house and that the order had been signed authorising her immediate release.

Mid-afternoon Burma time, the Guardian understands, the 65-year-old was told she was free to leave the two-storey lakeside villa which the junta had made her prison for most of this decade.

Attached to her release, the military sought to impose strict conditions, understood to be restrictions on where she could travel within Burma, and with whom she could meet. More:

Aung San Suu Kyi: the private photo album

After 10 years, Aung San Suu Kyi’s son prepares for reunion

From The Independent:

One of Aung San Suu Kyi’s sons has travelled to Bangkok in order to apply for a Burmese visa, so he can visit the detained opposition leader for the first time in 10 years – if she is freed from house arrest after tomorrow’s election.

Kim Aris, 33 – one of two sons of Ms Suu Kyi, 65, and her late husband, British academic Michael Aris – flew to the Thai capital from Britain. The last time he saw his mother was in December 2000 and previous visa applications have all failed.

Nyan Win, Ms Suu Kyi’s lawyer, told The Independent last night: “[She] is expecting to be released. She is making some preparations. She is planning meetings with the media and how she will handle her security.” The story of Ms Suu Kyi’s relationship with Mr Aris and her enforced isolation from her children is one of the many sad sub-plots of Burma’s decades-long struggle for democracy. More:

A guarded optimism in Burma as vote nears

From the New York Times:

During nearly five decades of military dictatorship, the impoverished population of Myanmar has become accustomed to hearing soldiers shout orders. And now comes a more unusual request from the ruling generals: Vote!

“Every citizen who values democracy and wants democratic rule must cast their votes without fail,” says a daily exhortation running in the state news media that urges voters to choose “candidates correctly.”

The national elections to be held here on Sunday are the first since an effort to form a Parliament 20 years ago was aborted by the military because it lost in a landslide. Judging from the junta’s enthusiasm, the generals appear confident that this time they will come out on top.

Many citizens of Myanmar, formerly Burma, both inside and outside the country dismiss the elections as a sham, an empty exercise in legitimizing the continued rule of the military, which will appoint a quarter of the members of the Parliament. There have been no campaign debates, the government has barred outside election monitors, the news media are heavily censored and parties must obtain permission to hold election rallies weeks in advance. More:

Inside Burma: Last call for the resistance: In Global Post

Will Aung San Suu Kyi be freed at last?

Aung Zaw is the founder and editor of the Irrawaddy Magazine, on Asia Sentinel:

Unnamed official sources in Burma have recently said that Aung San Suu Kyi will be released from house arrest on Nov. 13, when her current period of detention is due to expire. But is the Burmese regime really planning to free the detained Nobel Peace Prize winner? The answer to this question very much depends on one person: Senior General Than Shwe.

If Suu Kyi is released in November, it will not be before next month’s election. Pro-regime parties are expected to engineer a victory in the polls, which raises further questions about how Suu Kyi will respond to this situation if she is allowed to leave her home.

For the regime’s paramount leader, this is the crucial issue. He regards Suu Kyi as a potential threat to national security, and if he believes that she will continue to challenge his rule after she is freed, he will almost certainly find some pretext to extend her detention indefinitely. More:

Burma’s junta can’t escape from the net

Phoebe Kennedy from Rangoon in The Independent:

Burma’s military rulers won’t be inviting foreign observers to monitor November’s general election – a poll already dismissed as a sham by Western governments – but the country’s network of bloggers and “citizen journalists” is planning to do the job for them.

Despite internet censorship and harsh punishments for those caught criticising the junta online, Burma has a lively cyber community of bloggers and Facebookers who believe the internet is the strongest force for change in a country which has been locked under military dictatorship for half a century. The 7 November election won’t be free or fair – senior general Than Shwe has already seen to that by bankrolling a huge proxy party stuffed with ex-military candidates, while intimidating and financially squeezing the small opposition parties which have dared to stand.

But gathered in an internet café in central Rangoon, a group of young cyber-activists say they are taking the vote seriously, even if the result is a foregone conclusion. More:

Burma’s ‘three princesses’ prepare for election they have no chance of winning

From The Guardian:

A lifetime of frustration in Burmese politics has not wearied Cho Cho Kyaw Nyein. Her years as a political prisoner have not blunted her sense of humour.

“Some people call us the ‘three princesses of Burma’, but to the government, we are the three witches,” she laughs as, free now, she walks through the gardens of her once stately, now crumbling colonial home on a hilltop in the Burmese capital.

The “princesses” – she, Nay Ye Ba Swe, and Mya Than Than Nu – are too old for fairytales, she says, and the appellation she still finds faintly humorous.

They are princesses because their fathers were all prime ministers of Burma, part of the revered generation that fought for, and in 1948 won, freedom from British rule before it was snatched away again in a military coup in 1962.

The daughters have been friends since childhood, and have remained part of each others’ lives despite long years in prison and in exile. More:

Burma’s soldiers of fortune

Hannah Beech in Time:

The weekend invasion begins with the click-clack of thumbtack-adorned shoes. For four hours, senior cadets from Burma’s Defense Services Academy (DSA) and its sister technological institute march through the streets of Pyin U Lwin, briefcases in hand, maroon berets perched on proudly angled heads. Most are preoccupied with securing the rations of daily life: soap, socks, kung fu DVDs. But even as the stern-faced students contribute to the local economy, shopkeepers whisper about the arrogance of kids who are indoctrinated to believe they are, as the massive English sign in front of the DSA campus proclaims, the “triumphant elite of the future.” Even after promised elections later this year, Burma, known by the ruling junta as Myanmar, will remain one of the most militarized states in the world. No wonder the privileged young men marching through this central Burmese town expect nothing less than to one day rule their cowed nation.

At a juice bar in this agreeable former British hill station once known as Maymyo, I chat with a group of cadets hunched over glasses of strawberry milk. Their attitude toward locals notwithstanding, the cadets are polite and surprisingly willing to speak to a foreigner. One baby-faced 20-year-old tells me his major is naval architecture, sharing dreams of designing warships for a nation that boasts 450,000 soldiers and dedicates 21% of its spending to the military, according to lowball official statistics. Another student is focusing on hydro-engineering; he plans to build dams, a lucrative new pursuit of Burma’s military dictatorship, which sells plentiful energy to neighboring nations while leaving two-thirds of local households without access to any electricity. Yet another narrow-shouldered cadet is studying nuclear chemistry and confides, “my specialty is uranium and plutonium studies.” His chosen subject is particularly topical given the U.S. State Department’s recently stated concerns over a possible Burmese nuclear program — a project that a DSA graduate turned defecting army major tells exile media has its headquarters at the Defense Services Technological Academy’s fortified campus in Pyin U Lwin. More:

Aung San Suu Kyi: The unseen photo album

New Year’s Day, 1972, Chelsea registry office in London. Aung San Suu Kyi and Michael Aris marry, aged 26 and 25 respectively. Photograph: Private Aris Family Collection. From The Guardian

On Saturday 19 June the Burmese human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi turned 65. From The Guardian:

She remains under house arrest in Rangoon, and to mark her birthday the Guardian has been given previously unpublished photographs taken from the private collection of her late husband, Michael Aris, showing the Burmese democracy movement leader as a young bride-to-be, mother and housewife. Proceeds from the pictures are being donated to Dr Cynthia’s Mae Tao Clinic (maetaoclinic.org), a charity that provides free healthcare for refugees, migrant workers and other people who cross the border from Burma to Thailand and Prospect Burma, which helps educate Burmese students, either in exile or within Burma. See photographs in The Guardian.

Read in The Guardian: She is known to the world as a human rights activist who has spent 14 of the last 20 years under house arrest as punishment for demanding democracy in her home country. But in these photographs Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is shown not as the fearless campaigner who has given up her liberty for the sake of her nation, but as a young woman in love and a doting mother.

Two men the junta could not silence

Andrew Buncombe in The Independent:

When Burmese authorities sentenced the popular comedian and artist Zarganar to spend 59 years in jail, they must have hoped to silence a man known for criticising the junta. Yet, though the man celebrated for his films, plays and poetry was dispatched to a jail far from his family’s home in Rangoon, it appears that life behind bars has not reduced either his creative powers or his willingness to speak out.

In recent weeks, a newly crafted poem – brief but powerful – has been smuggled out of jail and passed to friends of the 49-year-old artist. It reads:

“It’s lucky my forehead is flat

Since my arm must often rest there

Beneath it shines a light I must invite

From a moon I cannot see

In Myitkyina.”

The poem, which hints at the hardships endured by prisoners in Myitkyina jail in the far north of Burma, was received by Zarganar’s friend Htein Lin. The Burmese artist, a former political prisoner who now lives in the UK, not only translated the poem into English with the help of his British wife, but also produced a compelling illustration to accompany his friend’s lines. The striking image suggests his friend at the bars of his jail cell, his head pressed into his forearms. It is set against a backdrop of hands, reaching upwards. More:

Why Burma’s dictatorship is desperately hunting for a white elephant

Sighting of rare albino animal – a symbol of power in Asia – has generals scouring jungle. Phoebe Kennedy in Rangoon in The Independent:

For centuries, white elephants have been revered as a symbol of power and good fortune in south-east Asia. Their discovery is a sign that the nation will prosper, and its rulers are wise and just. Small wonder, then, that when one of these rare creatures was spotted near Burma’s western coast earlier this year, the country’s ruling generals sent in a special army unit to capture it.

Never mind the international condemnation of Burma’s military dictatorship, suspected war crimes or shocking levels of poverty. If a white elephant is found, so the superstition goes, then all will be well.

In the forested hills behind Ngwe Saung beach, elephants are used to haul timber. It was one of their handlers who spotted the rare albino among a herd of wild elephants in January. He reported the sighting to the head of the timber company, the military was informed and the news was quickly sent up the chain of command. According to soldiers in Ngwe Saung, Senior General Than Shwe – the country’s head – himself dispatched a company of some 50 soldiers, with an entourage of elephant handlers and veterinarians armed with tranquilliser darts. More:

My father’s Burmese newspaper, the Rangoon Nation

Her father was a pioneering editor in Burma, but it wasn’t until Wendy Law-Yone discovered his life’s work in a nondescript north London building that she truly understood his legacy. In The Guardian:

The first edition was produced by the light of a hurricane lamp, on a portable typewriter with a missing “e”. Rent was cheap because the office building was still strewn with rubble from allied bombings. My mother’s jewellery – her entire life’s savings – were sold (not pawned) to a Ceylonese pawnbroker, to finance in part an essential mimeograph machine.

The Nation’s maiden print run – on a borrowed press – was 2,000, of which 20 copies were sold. Even at its peak, when it was Burma’s leading English language daily, the Nation’s circulation never exceeded 16,000. But the paper’s influence and reputation throughout the region were disproportionate to its size.

Because I was born just a year ahead of its launch, I never knew a time when there wasn’t a Nation. And perhaps because I grew up taking Dad’s paper for granted – as a birthright almost – I seldom bothered, even as a young adult, to read it regularly or carefully. More:

The fearless young men who risk their lives to document Burma’s genocide

Mac McClelland at Mother Jones:

Blood rubies: Burma's dictatorship is making a killing selling off natural gas and a wide variety of other valuable resources to China, India, Thailand, and the West—all to the tune of $6.7 billion a year. Click on the image to see the slideshow at Mother Jones.

“Do you want a cigarette?” I ask Htan Dah, holding up a pack of Thai-issue Marlboros. We are sitting on opposite sides of a rectangular table, talking over the spread: three bottles of vodka, two cartons of orange juice, plates of sugared citrus slices, nearly empty bottles of beer and bowls of fried pork, sweet corn waffles, pad thai, a chocolate cake. We share the benches with two guys each, and half a dozen others hover.

The men are all in their 20s. Most of them are solid and strong and hunky; their faces shine because they’re drunk, and it’s July. They could be mistaken for former frat boys unwinding after another tedious workday.

Except that they’re stateless. They are penniless. They speak three or four languages apiece. Two of them had to bribe their way out of Thai police custody yesterday, again, because they’re on the wrong side of the border between this country and the land-mine-studded mountains of their own. Htan Dah’s silky chin-length hair slips toward his eyes as he leans forward. My Marlboros are adorned with a legally mandated photographic deterrent, a guy blowing smoke in a baby’s face, but it doesn’t deter Htan Dah. Nor is he deterred by the fact that he doesn’t smoke. Tonight, he is flushed with heat and booze and the virility and extreme hilarity of his comrades. Tonight, as always, he is celebrating the fact that he’s still alive. He takes a cigarette. “Never say no,” he says, and winks at me. More:

Rapping at the Burmese Junta

From Asia Sentinel:

The chain-link gate slides open to reveal a group of young shaven-headed Burmese men and two girls sitting outside a house in Mae Sot, a scruffy town on the Thai side of the Thai-Burmese border.

All are members of Generation Wave, an underground group dedicated to overthrowing the repressive military junta that has ruled Burma since 1962. The odds are against them, as they have been against a long series of movements harboring in Mae Sot and Chiang Mai in Thailand. Nonetheless, Generation Wave has a certain amount of panache, attempting to reach Burma’s youth by using rap and hip hop music and graffiti to inspire others to stand up to authority

“We’ve cut our hair Saffron style,” said Aung Min, one of GW’s founders, referring to the failed Saffron Uprising in 2007, in which tens of thousands took to the streets, led by Buddhist monks, only to have at least 135 people and possibly more shot down by the military. “If something happens in Burma we can go in there quickly and mingle with the monks.” More:

Laughing through the junta’s gag

Myanmar’s famous comedy troupe, unable to publicly stage its satirical routines, still pokes fun at the ruling generals nightly at home. From the Los Angeles Times:

moustache_brothers Mandalay, Myanmar – The generals, to put it mildly, can’t take a joke.

But the Moustache Brothers make their living mocking fools, including those who wear military uniforms. So they have drawn a battle line in this country’s long struggle for democracy with a small stage that cuts across their cramped living room, site of the three-man comedy troupe’s nightly performance.

The military regime silenced street protests last fall by arresting and, in some cases, shooting peaceful demonstrators. That has left dissidents such as comedians Lu Zaw, Lu Maw and the lead satirist of the family, Par Par Lay, to tend the embers of opposition by poking fun at the regime.

In the past, the junta that rules Myanmar — also known as Burma — has tried to shut them up too, hoping to intimidate them with prison terms, hard labor and torture. But the comedians are exploiting a loophole in a ban on their act by staying on the attack at home, in English, with biting humor that ridicules the junta as a bunch of bumbling thugs, thieves and spies. More:

Aung San Suu Kyi: 5,000 days in captivity

To commemorate Aung San Suu Kyi’s 64th birthday on June 19, The Irrawaddy invited its readers to submit their artwork featuring the Nobel Peace Prize winner. The sketch above is by the artist Ko Khaing.

To commemorate Aung San Suu Kyi’s 64th birthday on June 19, The Irrawaddy invited its readers to submit their artwork featuring the Nobel Peace Prize winner. The sketch above is by the artist Ko Khaing.

Andrew Buncombe in the Independent:

Today, like most days, Aung San Suu Kyi will sit and wait. She will spend the day with the two women she has been detained with since 2003. That she is being held in a “guesthouse” in the grounds of Rangoon’s Insein jail, as opposed to her lakeside house where she has spent the past six years, makes little difference; she has no television, radio or phone. But today is special, and for the most dismal of reasons. It is the 5,000th day of her incarceration.

Ms Suu Kyi is being held at the prison, having been charged with violating the terms of her house arrest after a mysterious American swam to her home and spent the night there. In truth, the only crime committed by the graceful opposition leader was to win an election two decades ago. Even now, the junta is terrified that this slight 64-year-old widow has the power to do something they have never been able to do: lead and unite the people of Burma without the threat of force. That is why she is kept a prisoner, out of sight but never out of mind.

Yesterday, in a move that underlined the regime’s fear about Ms Suu Kyi’s latent power, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was refused permission to speak with her. On a controversial visit to Burma to try to convince Senior General Than Shwe to release more than 2,000 political prisoners and restart dialogue with the opposition, Mr Ban said his request for a meeting with Ms Suu Kyi had been turned down. “I pressed as hard as I could. I had hoped that he would agree to my request, but it is regrettable that he did not,” he told reporters. “I am deeply disappointed that they have missed a very important opportunity.” More:

In Burma, two hidden worlds

Irrawaddy readers from around the world have submitted their favourite portraits of Aung San Suu Kyi to commemorate her 64th birthday. Click on the image to visit the site.

Irrawaddy readers from around the world have submitted their favourite portraits of Aung San Suu Kyi to commemorate her 64th birthday. Click on the image to visit the site.

Amid privations, its regime prospers by trading with China and India. From the Wall Street Journal:

This grandiose new city has four-lane highways that are largely empty, a gems museum with sapphires and a zoo with air-conditioned Arctic habitats for penguins. Government officials reside in high-security compounds that can’t be visited by foreigners.

A five-hour drive to the south, residents in Yangon get by with hours at a time of no electricity. Their once-grand city is filled with collapsing Victorian mansions and abandoned colonial administrative buildings. Roads are often impassable during monsoon rains, and most cars date to the 1980s or early 1990s. Some taxis are so worn out that they have holes in the floorboards that allow passengers to see the road rushing by underneath.

The divide between Myanmar’s shining new capital, home to much of its military elite, and its commercial capital underscores the failure of a decade of U.S. and European sanctions, efforts to break the country’s military regime by cutting it off from doing business with much of the Western world. Instead, the country’s leaders and top businessmen have survived and even thrived by replacing Western buyers with Asian ones. Trade with China has more than doubled over the past five years, and sales of natural gas and other resources to Thailand, India and other Asian powers are also growing quickly. In the process, the regime has only tightened its grip. More:

The Lady by the Lake

A visit to Aung San Suu Kyi’s neighborhood. From Newsweek:

After the trial of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi began, I visited Rangoon. The road barriers and heavy security outside her home, which I’d seen on a previous trip, were gone. “She doesn’t live there anymore,” my taxi driver told me as we drove past her compound gate. What was once a tightly controlled thoroughfare was now just like any other potholed road in Rangoon, Burma’s biggest city and former capital (which the regime calls Yangon). A very bored-looking policeman sat outside the residence. After he ordered me to walk on the opposite side of the road, I gave him a thumbs-up in response-and got a toothy smile and a wave. Two blue police trucks were parked by the house with riot shields fastened to the sides. But the place seemed almost deserted, as if nobody expected Suu Kyi back any time soon.

What a contrast compared with the tight security I encountered in March, when Suu Kyi was still under house arrest. Back then she was due to be released on May 27, having spent 14 of the past two decades in detention, ever since her return from Britain in 1988. I took a local taxi-a beaten-up old wreck of a thing, as are most of the other cars and trucks on Rangoon’s roads-and simply asked the driver to take me near “the Lady’s house.” It wasn’t an enormously long distance to the far end of University Avenue, but the driver’s silence and my own apprehension made it seem longer. More:

Suu Kyi ‘crackling with energy’

Burmese democracy leader leaves her home for the first time since 2003 as ‘secret’ trial begins. Phoebe Kennedy in Rangoon in the Independent:

After nearly six years hidden from sight, suddenly yesterday Aung San Suu Kyi was back on public view – tranquil, composed, yet “crackling with energy”.

Until yesterday Burma’s democracy leader was being tried in secret, somewhere deep inside Rangoon’s Insein prison. Then without warning or explanation, the generals threw open the doors of the court to diplomats and even a handful of (local) journalists.

Hardly anybody has set eyes on Ms Suu Kyi since she last disappeared behind the doors of her home in July 2003. UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari has met her a couple of times, at his insistence, as have the senior leadership of the National League for Democracy (NLD), her party. In November 2007 she came out of her home to pay respects to thousands of monks demonstrating against the regime who had succeeded in getting as far as her villa. But that’s it. More:

Burma’s orphans of the storm

From the Sunday Times:

When three-year-old Su Myat Khain wakes up crying in the middle of the night, it is her brother Kyaw Kyaw Min, now 16, who cradles her and tries to comfort her. Su Myat Khain is still too young to understand that her parents’ quick thinking saved her life when Cyclone Nargis devastated Burma’s Irrawaddy delta last May, but that they never made it to the temple where they sent her and her two brothers. That night, unable to cross the village as the waters rose, they took refuge in their home, but were swept to their deaths by the devastating storm.

Kyaw Kyaw Min hugs Su Myat Khain close to his chest. “There are so many responsibilities now,” he says, sitting outside his makeshift home, with its flimsy tarpaulin roof, in a village in the southwest of the delta. “I have to look after my younger brother and sister. I feel like their father.” More:

Burma eats its young

George Packer in the New Yorker:

burmaIn a just world, the names Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi would be as well known as Steve Biko and Adam Michnik. These two leaders of Burma’s 88 Generation students, now in their forties, have spent almost their entire adult lives in prison for organizing pro-democracy demonstrations. After a short period of freedom, between 2005 and 2007, they and their colleagues were jailed again for staging a long walk around Rangoon, in August of 2007, in protest of soaring transportation prices-a gesture that sparked the so-called Saffron Revolution, the largest demonstrations in Burma since 1988, both times put down in blood.

After Aung San Suu Kyi, these two men are the leaders of Burma’s democracy movement, and a source of intense admiration and inspiration among the young Burmese I met on two trips there earlier this year. Ko Ko Gyi is the political strategist of the movement; Min Ko Naing is its charismatic soul. A friend who met Min Ko Naing after his release in 2005 told me how the former prisoner shed tears as he described the death of his only cellmate, a cat. Other Burmese and Americans speak of Min Ko Naing as having a special glow that raises him above the ordinary run of humanity. But because of Burma’s obscurity, the rest of the world has never heard of them.

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Not such a hero after all

Aung San Suu Kyi made the world take notice of Burma’s struggle for democracy. But her failure to react to recent key crises means that many of her followers now question her ability to lead the fight against the military junta. Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy in the Guardian:

suuAung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy activist and leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) in Burma, is the world’s most famous political prisoner. She has spent the best part of the past 20 years under house arrest, detained by the military dictatorship she opposes. Her current imprisonment began in May 2003, when her convoy was attacked and 70 of her supporters killed by a militia of government-sponsored thugs known darkly as the Masters of Force. She has been confined to her Rangoon home ever since.

Suu Kyi was born into the family that drove Burma’s independence movement: her father was General Aung San, who was murdered by his political rivals in July 1947, shortly after negotiating his country’s independence from Britain. Suu Kyi was pushed into politics in 1988 after thousands of students protesters were gunned down on the streets of Rangoon – when she delivered her inaugural speech at Rangoon’s Shwe Dagon Pagoda on August 26 that year, a crowd of 500,000 came to hear her. A nation held in a headlock by a junta since 1962 fell behind her gutsy message of hope, and she led the NLD to a landslide election victory in May 1990, winning 392 out of 485 seats.

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Burma’s bloody trade

Rajeshree Sisodia recently entered Burma, where she spoke with workers dependant on the country’s exploitative jade mining industry. Here she reports for newstatesman.com:

Imperial green jade is unique to Burma – and jewellery made from it can sell for millions of dollars on the international market.
But the country’s mining industry is built on suffering: forced and child labour, land confiscation, drug abuse, sexual exploitation and environmental damage – all of which, according to pro-democracy campaigners, have scarred the trade.
More than 20,000 people migrate, or are forced to work for mine companies which are either partly or completely owned by the nation’s military leaders and its business partners.
From mining, to cutting, polishing, trading and selling, the regime’s generals control the gem industry with a vice-like grip. Profits from the lucrative trade filter down only as far as the junta, which spends around US$330million a year on arms – roughly twice the amount it invests in health and education combined. This in a nation ranked among Asia’s poorest; the average person earns less than US$1 a day.

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Burma’s Fleeing Masses

Mark Fenn / Far Eastern Economics Review

With his good looks and fashionable clothes, 27-year-old Su could pass for an Asian pop star, or perhaps the small-time kickboxer he used to be back home. In fact, he works illegally as a waiter in a small restaurant in central Bangkok-one of an estimated two million migrants who have left impoverished Burma to seek a better life in Thailand. Fleeing poverty and sometimes brutal oppression at home, they often find themselves living in the shadows, persecuted and exploited in Burma’s wealthier neighbors. Not that Su considers himself a victim. A member of Burma’s Karen ethnic minority, he speaks English in staccato, half-finished sentences punctuated with swear words. He hates the Burmese junta and is a fervent supporter of the struggle for Karen independence. Su admires Burma’s imprisoned democracy icon and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as Che Guevara-and Rambo. In the latest Rambo film, released this year, the hero teams up with Karen rebels to take on the Burmese army. Pirated DVDs of the film, circulated underground, were reportedly a big hit in Burma. “I like the Rambo style,” says Su, smiling.

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Visit Myanmar — That’s an order

Travel to Myanmar has slowed to a trickle. But a decade ago, with great fanfare, the government launched a new tourism campaign. Stephen Brookes, then Rangoon bureau chief for Asia Times, remembers its bizarre launch ceremony. From World Hum:

The 7-foot dolls had taken their papier-mâché heads off and were milling around behind the stadium, smoking cigarettes and chatting up the dancing girls from the Ministry of Culture.

You could hardly blame them-the enormous heads were hot and airless, and the guys inside had to peer out from two little eyeholes cut into the mouth. Besides, the dancing girls were cute and had jasmine flowers in their hair, and they weren’t due in the stadium for another 15 minutes, to do their part-along with more than 5,000 other costumed performers-for a massive ceremony to usher in “Visit Myanmar Year.”

It was November 18, 1996, and at 5:30 that morning, Myanmar’s military junta had rounded up the few foreign journalists in town and bussed us to a stadium just outside Rangoon, for what they promised would be the media event of the year. Now, two hours later, most of us had managed to sneak out of our assigned seats and were wandering around on the field, trying to figure out what was going on. I stumbled into a makeshift staging area, where I found the gigantic papier-mâché dolls. One of them offered me a Marlboro.

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After Saffron Revolution, all is black in Myanmar

Rajeshree Sisodia in The National:

Yangon: In many ways this is a story of failure. Of a government that failed to deliver on long-made promises of freedom and democracy; of a people who stood up not once but twice against repression, and were cut down both times; and of an international community that champions human rights but has so far failed to turn rhetoric into reality.

A year ago, spiralling inflation and growing political repression in Myanmar led tens of thousands of people, including Buddhist monks and nuns, to take to the streets in peaceful protest. The mass demonstrations, known as the Saffron Revolution for the colour of the monks’ robes, were brutally suppressed.

On Sept 27 2007, soldiers and riot police, armed with assault rifles, tanks and smoke bombs, opened fire, killing about 50 people. Thousands were rounded up and detained.

It was as if a mirror had been held up to reflect the 1988 pro-democracy demonstrations, or 88 Generation uprising, when thousands of students protested to demand multiparty democratic elections. The dissent two decades ago was similarly smothered; thousands paid with their lives.

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Locked in Burma

After 13 years of detention, Aung San Suu Kyi perfectly represents the suffering of the Burmese people, effectively trapped in the world’s biggest prison. Pressure is building on the UN to act. Simon Tisdall in The Guardian:

It is hard to imagine what life must be like for Aung San Suu Kyi, locked up inside her Rangoon home, separated from her children, denied visitors, her phone line cut, her mail intercepted. Burma’s opposition leader, whose 1990 election victory was annulled by the military, is now in her 13th year of detention. She has been held continually since 2003. In June she spent her 63rd birthday alone.

Unconfirmed reports suggest Suu Kyi, who has suffered health problems in the past, is unwell again. Her lawyer, Kyi Win, who was allowed to see her last month, quoted her as saying: “I am tired and I need some rest.” Following her refusal of a food delivery, there is also speculation the pro-democracy campaigner and Nobel peace prizewinner has begun a hunger strike. Her lawyer said her weight had fallen below the 7st she was known to weigh in 2003.

While uncertainty surrounds Suu Kyi’s plight, there is nothing at all ambiguous about Burma’s political, social and human rights situation one year after the junta brutally suppressed the Buddhist-monk-led “saffron revolution”.

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