Daily News- Sep 28 - 2002- Saturday

  • Crackdown on Activists as NLD Celebrates Anniversary
  • Myanmar minority women take leadership role in embattled villages
  • Burma: The Future of the Armed Forces
  • Thailand Senator voiced concern over Burma acquisition of MiG fighters
  • Burmese villagers face Unocal in US court

  • Crackdown on Activists as NLD Celebrates Anniversary

    By Kyaw Zwa Moe
    the Irrawaddy

    September 27, 2002—Burma’s ruling junta has launched a fresh crackdown on activists, arresting 30 dissidents and forcing many others into hiding, according to sources in Rangoon. The move came just days before today’s 14th anniversary of the founding of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

    "Thirty activists were arrested on the night of Sept 25," a Rangoon activist told The Irrawaddy today. "When they were arrested at their respective homes, some of their books and leaflets were also confiscated by the military intelligence."

    The arrested activists include U Zaw Phay Win, Ko Htay, Ye Kyaw Swa, Hla Htut Soe and Ko Myint. Most are former political detainees.

    U Zaw Phay Win is a well-known private teacher in Rangoon who has been repeatedly arrested for his political activities since 1988. Hla Htut Soe is also a former political prisoner who has served a seven-year prison sentence.

    "We think that they were arrested because of a political book that may have come from dissident groups overseas," says another source close to the families of the arrested. "So far, however, the families themselves don’t know the reason for the arrests."

    The source added that some other political activists, including young members of the NLD, went into hiding soon after news of the arrests began circulating.The Sept 25 arrests follow a series of similar incidents in recent months.

    On the 13th of this month, U Sai Pha and U Saw Nan Di, two senior NLD members in Shan State, were detained for unspecified reasons.

    In August, the regime arrested 15 university students in Rangoon for protesting against it. Thirteen were released within a week, but law students Thet Naung Soe and Khin Maung Win have reportedly been sentenced to seven years imprisonment for their involvement in the protests.

    In July, two NLD members were beaten and arrested for possessing copies of the New Era Journal, which is published by dissidents based in Thailand. The regime’s court later sentenced the two to three years’ imprisonment under section 5(j) of the Emergency Provisions Act.

    The latest crackdown comes amid signs of a thaw between the NLD and the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).

    At today’s celebrations of the NLD’s founding, the party’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, said, "We will never hesitate to cooperate with the armed forces, based on sincere goodwill.""It is high time we all worked for the country holding hands together," she added in her address to 400 NLD party members and diplomats gathered at the party’s Rangoon headquarters.

    It was not clear how the recent wave of arrests would affect the delicate détente between the NLD and the SPDC. The NLD has repeatedly stressed the need for all political prisoners to be released.

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    Myanmar minority women take leadership role in embattled villages

    CHIANG MAI, Thailand, Sep 26 (AFP) - In the tradition-bound villages of eastern Myanmar, dozens of women have been thrust into leadership roles to take the place of menfolk killed or persecuted by the ruling military.

    Of some 100 settlements dotted through a vast swathe of jungle running along Thailand's western flank, more than 60 are now headed by women, refugees from the troubled region say.Until now the prospect of a woman being elected to take responsibility for the safety and development of villages which are each home to between 200 and 800 people was unheard of.

    But for many male elders, it has become just too dangerous to identify themselves as leaders to the army commanders who patrol the region in search of ethnic minority rebels like the Karen National Union (KNU).And they say women have proved themselves skilled at handling delicate and dangerous negotiations with the military who come demanding porters, food and money from the impoverished communities.

    "For a minority man living in the villages, life is not safe," says Saw Kawe-lu, a 31-year-old Karen from Kya-In district who fled to Thailand to escape the regime."We are afraid that soldiers will take us off to be used as porters, and we are often accused of being agents of the KNU. So we don't want to stay any more," he told AFP.

    He and other refugees say that many headmen have been killed by "out-of-control" military officers who shoot them as punishment for failing to warn of attacks by rebel armies like the Karen National Union (KNU).

    "To avoid this kind of of incident and to save the lives of good fathers, husbands and brothers we have selected women aged between 40 to 50 years to lead the villages," he said.

    Young women are not chosen for fear they would be targets for sexual assault. A report prepared by Shan minority groups made world headlines recently by alleging the military uses rape as a systematic weapon of war.

    So far the leadership gamble has been working, refugees say, explaining that Myanmar army officers are generally reluctant to mete out the beatings and humiliations exacted on male leaders.

    Karen elder Saw Maw Htoo, who now lives in a Thai-Myanmar border town of Mae Sot, says the women have turned out to be instinctively talented negotiators and communicators."I think women speak softly and are much cleverer than men. They consult with the soldiers better," he says, adding that the unsophisticated village men were often unsuited to the task."The women are being treated better by the army. Sometimes they are abused but not to the extent the men were," he adds.

    However, there have already been casualties. The KNU said last month that the 40-year-old female village head of Hpapya village in Kya-In district was killed by Myanmar troops during a clash with the separatist forces.The rebels said the junta suspected the woman was relaying details of their front-line positions to the ethnic militia.

    Exiled villagers say these sorts of killings are commonplace, as are beatings with the butt of a rifle or steel- capped boots if village leaders fail to provide the goods and services that are demanded of them.

    "I think all village headmen had been experience of physical abuse by soldiers because they doesn't comply the orders perfectly every time," says Saw Maw Htoo who is aged in his 50s.

    Myanmar's government insists that it has cracked down on the practice of forced labour, which has drawn condemnation from the international community and the International Labor Organisation (ILO).But refugees say that one of the hardest parts of the women leaders' jobs is to decide which of the poor families living in their districts should give up their menfolk or their livestock to assist and feed the army.They are also responsible for deciding when to order the evacuation of children, the elderly and young women who typically take cover in the jungle when a column of soldiers passes through the villages.

    Three villages were torched in Karen state last week, in an action typically carried out when soldiers suspect local people have links to the anti-government insurgents.

    For many, the grinding poverty and constant danger is too much to bear. Saw Kawe-lu says he and a group of friends made the long walk to the border in November 2000 to find work in Thailand.Now he works 60-hour weeks in a garment factory and lives six-to-a-room with other illegal migrants. It's a difficult life, he says, but at least he has enough money to buy food.

    Senior KNU spokesman Mahn Nyein Maung, whose force is one of the few militias not to have signed ceasefires with the Yangon junta, says the government troops are indifferent to the people's fate."One of them told me: 'You people are like water and the rebels are fishes, so we don't care if we have to pump out all the water from the pond to catch the fish, we don't care at all'."

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    Burma: The Future of the Armed Forces

    Bangkok/Brussels, 27 September 2002

    Source : International Crisis Committee
    Bangkok/Brussels, 27 September 2002

    The release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest on 6 May 2002 has generated some optimism about political progress in Burma. It remains to be seen, however, whether all political actors will be able to translate the new cooperative atmosphere into actual compromises in key policy areas.

    This briefing focuses on some of the most critical issues that will have to be dealt with in a political transition – the composition, management and responsibilities of the Burma armed forces (the Tatmadaw) as a military institution. First, it reviews the ongoing expansion and modernisation of the Tatmadaw, and lays out the visions of respectively the State, Peace and Development Council (SPDC) and the National League for Democracy (NLD) for the armed forces of the future. Secondly, it considers the prospects for a compromise between the two protagonists that satisfies core values on both sides; it outlines the possible contours of such a compromise, and it identifies key problem areas.

    Since 1988, the military government has carried out an ambitious expansion and modernisation of the armed forces. As a result, the Tatmadaw today is an entirely different organisation from that of a decade ago. It is now able not only to crush civil disturbances in the cities and respond to periodic guerrilla attacks in the countryside, but also to conduct much larger and more effective counter-insurgency operations. For the first time in its history, it also has the means to carry out extended conventional operations in defence of Burma's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

    While the military government faces pressing concerns from both within and outside the country, including serious economic problems, the SPDC has given clear signs that it is determined to continue its comprehensive defence improvement program. Whatever differences members of the military hierarchy may have over other policy questions, they share a vision of the Tatmadaw being the envy of its regional neighbours, and capable of defending Burma against even the most sophisticated and well-equipped adversaries. There also seems to be a shared conviction that – regardless of any changes that might need to be made in the way the country is governed – the armed forces should remain the ultimate arbiters of power in Burma and have all the means necessary to impose their will on the country.

    The NLD, which has operated under enormous restrictions including the imprisonment of most of its leadership, was slow to formulate and articulate its views on defence issues. Aung San Suu Kyi and other NLD leaders, however, have made repeated references to the place of the armed forces in Burma society, and in 1999 these views were incorporated into a formal defence policy platform, which clearly set out a broad vision for the Tatmadaw under a democratic government. In some key respects, this vision is not too different from that of the military hierarchy. Yet, given the profound differences between the two sides in their approach to governing and defending Burma, there is also a considerable divergence of views. The NLD, for example, favours smaller, more professional armed forces under full civilian, political control. Particularly contentious issues would likely include the role of the powerful intelligence apparatus, the question of amnesty for members of the armed forces guilty of human rights violations, and the ideological foundations and indoctrination of future members of the armed forces.

    The NLD has made it clear that it is ready to discuss the position of the armed forces under a democratic government. The military leaders, however, remain convinced that they alone have the right and the ability to decide such core issues as the size, shape and management of the armed forces, which not only constitute their main power base, but also are central to their self-image and world view. Thus, they have dismissed the NLD’s attempts to devise and promulgate an alternative defence policy not only as having little worth but, more importantly, as having no legitimacy. Indications are that advice from foreign governments and independent groups on this subject is accorded much the same treatment.

    On the amnesty issue, even though Aung San Suu Kyi has already made it clear that a NLD government would not engage in a campaign of reprisals against serving or retired members of the Tatmadaw, these assurances have so far failed to meet the concerns of the officers most likely to be affected.

    To outside observers, it would seem to be in the long-term interest of the Tatmadaw itself to reach an accommodation with the NLD and other political forces that would reduce the opprobrium it currently faces both domestically and internationally. Yet the military hierarchy appears to feel that it is already capable of defending its own policies and – despite the costs to the wider community – sees continuing high levels of defence expenditure as both necessary and justifiable. It believes that the armed forces are behaving honourably, holding the Union together, maintaining internal peace and stability, and defending the country against diverse external threats. The senior ranks of the armed forces thus do not share the sense of urgency felt by the international community over the need for a compromise with the democratic opposition, at least not in the critical area of national security.

    Please see the 20-pages full report
  • www.crisisweb.org/projects/asia/burma_Myanmar/reports

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    Thailand Senator voiced concern over Burma acquisition of MiG fighters

    Source : Bangkok Post

    Burma has acquired MiG-29 Fulcrum fighters, which could fly beyond the western border where air defence systems are still lagging, said Trang senator ACM Kant Surakul yesterday.

    During a floor debate on the 2003 budget, ACM Kant said Burma now possessed the Russian-made combat aircraft, reputed to have better manoeuvrability than the air force's US-made F-16 Fighting Falcon jets.

    ``MiG-29s are deadlier than F-16s, and could fly beyond Bangkok to reach Prachin Buri province in the East,'' ACM Kant said. ``We can't negotiate anything with a country whose military power ranks above ours.''

    The air force's proposed fund of 2.1 billion baht to install mountain-top radars and other military equipment on the western border over a three-year period had been slashed by the current government, as well as the previous administration.

    Meanwhile, Nakhon Ratchasima senator Kraisak Choonhavan called on Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to revise foreign policy toward Burma in line with international bids to boycott the country over recent reports of major human rights abuses by its military regime.

    Citing a resolution adopted by the US Congress to boycott Rangoon, Mr Kriangsak said authorities would be in violation of the international principles of human rights if they arrested and repatriated members of a Shan Women's Network operating on the border.

    People forcibly repatriated to the country faced serious retribution, he said.

    In reaction to the reported abuses and Rangoon's closure of the common border, Mr Thaksin should take a tougher stand in dealing with the junta, Mr Kraisak said.

    ``The Burmese have never applied international trade standards and have threatened to close down all foreign firms in their country, except IP Star,'' he said, referring to a telecommunications firm affiliated to Shin Corp, which was founded by Mr Thaksin.

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    Burmese villagers face Unocal in US court


    Source : Bangkok Post

    Kenny Bruno is Campaigners Coordinator and John Cheverie is Shapiro Public Service Fellow for EarthRights International, which is co-counsel for the plaintiffs in Doe vs Unocal.

    Human rights campaigners in the United States and Thailand are jubilant over a US court's decision on Sept 18, in a landmark human rights case.

    The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals in California, has set a remarkable precedent with its recent decision to give a go-ahead to the Doe vs Unocal case, in which the energy giant was alleged as being complicit in human rights abuses by the Rangoon regime.

    The case, which revolves around events during the construction of the Yadana natural gas pipeline in southern Burma and the security arrangements for that pipeline, is remarkable for several reasons.

    The defendant, Unocal, is based in the US, while the events in question took place in Burma. Because of US legal doctrine, it has been very difficult to bring cases from other countries to US courts, even when US defendants are central to the case. The Doe vs Unocal decision has overcome this obstacle.

    The allegations include human rights abuses in violation of international law, including forced labour, rape and murder. Until recently, only nation-states were considered potential perpetrators of human rights crimes. An earlier decision in the case recognised that corporations are potentially responsible for grave human rights violations. The recent decision is critically important because it recognised that Unocal can be held liable for aiding and abettng abuses committed by the Burmese military.

    The recent decision has built on the earlier decision by further expanding the reach of the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) over corporate defendants.

    The ATCA allows non-US residents to sue in US courts for violations of international law.

    Eleven anonymous Burmese villagers, members of ethnic minorities such as the Karen, are the plaintiffs against a powerful US oil corporation, Unocal. These plaintiffs, for whom it is too dangerous to reveal their names, now live as anonymous refugees in Thailand. These victims are as distant from the trappings of power as any citizens on the planet, yet they will now get a chance to face wealthy oil executives in federal court alleging human rights abuses in violation of international law.

    Until Sept 18, it looked like that would never happen. Two years ago, a Federal District Court judge dismissed the case, saying that while ``Unocal knew or should have known'' that the Burmese military ``did commit, was committing and would continue to commit'' gross human rights abuses, the company could not be held liable because it did not control or direct the Burmese military in committing those acts.

    That decision left the official position of the US judiciary awkwardly out of alignment with traditional concepts of law and with common ethical sense. The lower court ruling held that even though Unocal knew of, and benefitted from, the brutal and illegal acts of its business partner, the Burmese army, Unocal could not be held liable under the ATCA for international law violations.

    The Appeals Court decision of Sept 18 was the right one under legal and common sense ethical reasoning.

    The facts presented in the pre-trial phases include overwhelming evidence that the Burmese military forced villagers to work during construction of the pipeline and for militarisation of the area.

    The evidence shows that Unocal knew the reputation of the military, knew these abuses were likely to occur, and knowingly benefitted from the actions of the military.

    The decision of the Appeals Court comports with what most people believe: a company that knows of abhorrent and illegal practices and provides assistance to the perpetrators while reaping economic benefits, is culpable.

    The Appeals Court made a logical decision in overturning the lower court's dismissal of Doe vs Unocal. The Sept 18 decision stands for the proposition that US companies operating abroad can be held accountable, under international law and in US courts, for aiding and abetting human rights crimes.

    Although two years have been added to the victims' long wait for a trial in this case, there is a silver lining. After the dismissal of the case in Federal District Court two years ago, lawyers for the plaintiffs filed a parallel case in California state court, based on allegations that Unocal violated California law (for the same actions of rape, murder and forced labour in the federal case.) That case is scheduled to go to trial in February 2003, giving the plaintiffs two potential venues to fight against an adversary whose power and wealth is almost overwhelming. The federal court's recent decision could help the plaintiffs in both cases, federal and state.

    In a globalising world, where corporations have ever-increasing power, it is only fair that they have increased responsibility as well. For 11 Burmese villagers whose lives have been disfigured by the grotesque behaviour of the Burmese military and Western multinational oil companies, the US courts now hold their best hope for a modicum of justice.

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