Friday, 21 May 2010

US says troubled by Myanmar developments

*US says troubled by Myanmar developments

The top US diplomat for Asia said on Wednesday Washington is troubled that
Myanmar has not moved on any of the issues standing in the way of better
American ties with the military-ruled state.

Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific,
said his visit to Myanmar this month for talks with the military left him
disappointed on a full range of bilateral disputes.

"The United States remains quite dissatisfied with what we've seen to date
in terms of movement on the part of the government with the specific issues
that we've laid out," he said.

Campbell had called on Myanmar to hold dialogue with opposition parties and
ethnic groups ahead of elections this year and for the immediate release of
the country's estimated 2,100 political prisoners.

He had also expressed concern that Myanmar was seeking to acquire nuclear
technology from North Korea in violation of UN Security Council sanctions.

"On each of these issues we are troubled by developments," Campbell told a
news briefing.

Campbell's visit followed up a trip in November last year — the first to the
former Burma in 14 years by a senior US official — under Washington's new
policy of deeper engagement with a regime it has disparaged for years.

He met with government officials, leaders of opposition parties and ethnic
groups and long-detained Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, the
country's charismatic pro-democracy icon.

Source: reposted by Burma Democratic Concern (BDC)


May 18, 2010

Andrew Selth

*Burma-North Korea Ties Worry the World*

For the past 10 years, Burma has been accused of trying to acquire a nuclear
weapon. A number of developments during this period — notably Burma’s
growing relationship with North Korea — have raised international concerns.
Yet, to date, no hard evidence of such a plan has been produced.

Claims of a secret nuclear weapons program date back to 2000, when Burma’s
military government announced that it was going to purchase a small research
reactor from Russia. These accusations were repeated in 2003, when it was
suggested by a respected news magazine that North Korea had taken over from
Russia as the source of Burma’s nuclear technology. In the years that
followed, the issue resurfaced periodically on activist Web sites, but in
August 2009 it attracted global attention when a story appeared in the
Sydney Morning Herald citing Australia National University professor Des
Ball and the Thai-based journalist Phil Thornton.

The SMH claimed that there were in fact two nuclear projects running in
Burma. The first was the Russian research center, which was to be operated
under international safeguards. (Contrary to the SMH story, construction of
this reactor has not yet begun). The second was said to be a secret project
to build a reactor and associated nuclear fuel processing plants with North
Korean help. According to the SMH, if all went according to plan Burma would
have a nuclear weapon by 2014 and “a handful” of such devices by 2020. The
main sources for these claims were two Burmese “defectors” and commercial
satellite imagery of suspect facilities in Burma.

Needless to say, such claims have been the subject of close scrutiny by the
United States and other governments. There have also been comprehensive
studies of the issue by think tanks like the International Institute for
Strategic Studies in London and the Institute for Science and International
Security in Washington.

The US government has expressed its concern about the defense ties that
appear to have developed between Burma and North Korea over the past decade.
These links reportedly include the sale of conventional arms to Burma, North
Korean help with the development of Burma’s defense infrastructure
(including the construction of various underground facilities), assistance
to Burma’s arms industries and training in fields like air defense. In 2004,
the US blocked the sale of North Korean short-range ballistic missiles to

The Obama administration has also stated its wish to discuss a number of
proliferation issues with Burma, including the possible transfer of nuclear
technology from North Korea. Significantly, however, at no time has the US
government stated that Burma is attempting to develop a nuclear weapon, with
or without North Korean help. Indeed, despite considerable pressure from
members of Congress, activists and journalists, Washington has refused to be
drawn on the subject. Its position seems to reflect either a belief that
Burma does not have a secret nuclear weapons program, or a lack of hard
evidence to support such a claim.

This approach has been shared by other countries, including Britain and
Australia, both of which have referred only to “unconfirmed” reports of a
secret nuclear program. For their part, the IISS and ISIS have both stated
that there is insufficient evidence to support the claims. The IISS, for
example, said in late 2009 that Burma “has no known capabilities that would
lend themselves to a nuclear weapons program.”

Even so, both governments and think tanks remain suspicious of Burma’s
intentions, and point to a number of factors which they believe warrant
continuing close attention.

Of all Southeast Asian countries, Burma has the strongest strategic
rationale for a nuclear weapons program. Since the abortive pro-democracy
uprising in 1988, the military government has feared armed intervention by
the United States and its allies. The regime has also suffered from economic
sanctions and other punitive measures. Burma’s generals envy North Korea’s
ability to resist such pressures and still win concessions from the
international community. They reportedly believe that this influence derives
from Pyongyang’s possession of nuclear weapons.

In addition, Burma has for some years been working closely with two North
Korean trading entities that have a record of proliferating sensitive
nuclear and missile technologies. Also, Burma has imported a number of
sophisticated machines and items of dual-use equipment from Europe and Japan
that could conceivably be used in a nuclear program. The number of Burmese
sent to Russia for nuclear-related training seems to be more than that
required for a peaceful research program. Furthermore, some of the claims
made by the “defectors” are plausible.

None of these factors in themselves prove that Burma has embarked on a
nuclear weapons program. After the mistakes of the Iraq war, no government
wants to rush to judgment based on incomplete or unverified intelligence.
Having been caught napping a few years ago, however, when it was discovered
that Syria was building a reactor with North Korean help, the international
community is now looking carefully for hard evidence of a secret Burmese
nuclear program.

East Asia Forum

Andrew Selth is a research fellow at the Griffith Asia Institute in

Source: reposted by Burma Democratic Concern (BDC)


*Myanmar: Hip-hop's revolution*

Posted May 19, 2010, 11:08 am

Alex Ellgee Special to GlobalPost

MAE SOT, Thailand — Behind the rusty prison bars, two men lie on the floor
in light blue fatigues. A stream of light pours in through a small window
near the top of their cell. All is still.

Suddenly, loud music begins to blare. The men leap up and clang their iron
shackles as smoke drifts into their cell. They start singing against a heavy
beat: “Never turn back, never give up.”

Despite appearances, these men are not criminals and they are not in prison
– at least not in a literal sense.

9KT and MK are famous Myanmar hip-hop artists on the set of their latest
music video, "Never Give Up." Donning black masks and using pseudonyms,
these musicians aim to keep their political tunes under the radar of a
dictatorship as oppressive as Myanmar, formerly called Burma.

“We wanted to film in a prison cell in order to represent for all our
members and friends who are now behind bars,” said 9KT, arranging his mask
on the set of the music video. “We are trying to tell the government, even
if they imprison us they cannot stop us fighting for freedom; we will always
carry on.”

“We are telling the people that they shouldn’t give up,” he said. “Burmese
youth can’t be afraid of the Burmese junta, they need to fight for freedom
in our country.”

Already a prominent hip-hop artist in Myanmar, 9KT grew inspired to make
more subversive songs when he heard the political hip-hop of refugees from
his country in Australia. He wanted to similarly address the extreme
suffering he saw around him.

He traveled to Mae Sot, Thailand, near the Myanmar border, more than a year
ago. The area has for more tahn two decades played host to an array of
organizations opposing the Myanmar junta.

There, he joined up with an underground political group called Generation
Wave (GW). He later met MK through GW, and they immediately found common
ground in their love for music and the desire to “wake up the youth.” In Mae
Sot, they can produce their music with relative safety, away from the police
presence in Yangon, Myanmar's capital.

GW itself was formed after the "Saffron Revolution" in September 2007 when
rising fuel prices provoked thousands of monks to take to the streets in
protest. Civilians joined the movement, but the military junta cracked down,
leaving hundreds dead and thousands imprisoned.

Following the crackdown, a group of protesters, who had been friends since
high school, started GW as a way to inspire new activists inside Myanmar.
Having analyzed revolutions worldwide and the opposition movement in their
country they decided to focus on non-violent resistance.

In two and half years, the group has carried out what they call “action
campaigns” almost every week. Their main activities include anti-government
graffiti in busy places, handing out pamphlets and writing and distributing
political music.

“The youth of Burma have seen so many activists thrown behind bars, they
have seen monks killed in the streets, so many are turning their back to the
struggle for human rights,” said Min Yan Naing, founder of GW. “Our job and
aim is to bring them back and make them feel the responsibility to change
our country and better the lives for all Burmese people.”

Just association with GW risks a hefty prison sentence. Thirty GW members
have been arrested. Nyie Chan was handed the longest sentence, 32 years, and
is said to be suffering from severe stomach problems in Myanmar’s notorious
Insein prison near Yangon.

Zayar Thaw, another famous hip-hop artist, was arrested and sentenced to six
years. Minutes before Zayar Thaw was sentenced, he wrote a statement, which
was leaked to GW members. “Tell the people to have the courage to reject the
things they don’t like, and even if they don’t dare to openly support the
right thing, tell them not to support the wrong thing,” he said in his

The young musician pioneered the hip-hop industry in Myanmar, releasing the
first-ever rap album in the country in 2003. The rock ‘n’ roll music fans of
Myanmar’s crumbling cities found a new passion overnight.

Zayar Thaw's thirst for hip-hop was married to his desire to further
democracy in Myanmar. The most prolific of GW campaigns, which saw the
phrase “Change New Government” being applied to Change Nitric Gas stickers,
was his brainchild. This motto is also spray-painted across the gate of GW’s
safe house in Mae Sot.

All the walls of the GW safe house are covered in graffiti. One wall has
“Freedom” splattered across it. Another has "Generation Wave" stenciled in
red, with a large clenched fist giving a thumbs up — GW’s logo.

9KT’s latest album, “Never Give Up,” is a direct message to youth. Eleven
tracks, to be released in October in time with Myanmar's elections, mix rock
and hip-hop. One song called “If We All Unite,” talks about coming together
to topple the government; while another, “Negative Thinking,” is a comic
song that mocks the generals for their bad intentions.

“Music can change everything. Popular music can change a lot,” he said.
“When I was young and heard celebrities singing happy songs, it made me
happy, if they sang angrily, it made me angry — so I hope if the people hear
political songs from familiar voices they will become interested in

The cameraman at the music video shoot takes an aerial position. 9KT shakes
a can of spray paint and skillfully tags "2010," to represent the upcoming
elections, on the concrete floor. Without delay he whips out his second can
and aggressively paints a white cross over the digits.

Angrily, he stamps on it and walks off. With a bit of luck a dog walks over
the graffiti. Since dogs are considered lowly creatures, cheers arise from
the group which believes the upcoming election will be a sham — a belief
furthered by new election laws that for the first time allow the junta to
legally arrest opposition politicians who did not register.

As the camera and lights get packed up GW members sit around a table with
guitars discussing their upcoming furtive campaigns.

“We have to do as many as possible during the elections,” Min Yan Naing told
the group. “A revolution is evolving, it might not happen over night but at
least the people will soon realize they have the right to be free.”


*Rising Border Tension Threatens China-Burma Relations*
By Mitch Moxley

BEIJING, May 20, 2010 (IPS) - When the military regime in Burma launched a
campaign last August to disarm the ethnic rebels in the Kokang region, made
up mostly of ethnic Chinese and where a two-decade-long ceasefire had been
in place, the push triggered an exodus of more than 37,000 refugees into
China’s Yunnan province.

The move, which frustrated the Chinese government in Beijing, sheds light on
brewing troubles in China-Burma relations. China has a significant interest
in a stable Burma and a greater influence over the xenophobic regime than
perhaps any other power. But as an election approaches in Burma (officially
known as Myanmar) that the ruling generals dubiously claim will be free and
fair, China-Burma relations are growing increasingly strained.

Complicating matters is growing anxiety that another push against armed
ethnics groups in eastern Burma will cause a second refugee crisis in
southern China’s Yunnan province, which borders the military-ruled South-
east Asian state along with Laos and Vietnam. Observers say the junta is
preparing for a military campaign against the 30,000-strong United Wa State
Army, which is ethnically Chinese and has been accused by the United States
of being a drug cartel.

"What’s happening on the border brings into sharp relief the fault lines in
[China-Burma relations] that have been apparent for some time but are now
more clearly defined," said Dr Ian Storey, a fellow at the Institute of
South East Asian Studies in Singapore.

"This is not a relationship that is based on trust and mutual friendship.
It’s very much a marriage of convenience."

In Burma, distrust of China runs deep, and the junta has for several years
tried to reduce its dependence on the latter by courting other nations,
namely, India and Russia. China, meanwhile, has grown frustrated with
Burma’s lack of progress on political reform and addressing economic
disparities, Dr Storey said.

Burma was one of the first countries to recognise the People’s Republic of
China in 1949, but relations turned for the worse in the 1960s, culminating
in anti-Chinese riots in the then-capital, Rangoon (now known as Yangon).
But when Western countries imposed broad sanctions on Burma following a
crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in 1988, China upped aid and arms
shipments and fostered trade relations.

Since then, China has provided broad diplomatic and economic support for the
junta, considered one of the most corrupt in the world. According to state
media, China is Burma’s fourth largest foreign investor and has invested
more than 1 billion U.S. dollars in the country, mostly in the mining
sector. In 2008, bilateral trade grew more than one-quarter to about 2.63
billion dollars.

In October 2009, state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation started
building a crude oil port in Burma, part of a pipeline that will carry 12
million metric tons of crude oil a year from the Middle East and Africa
through Burma into China, roughly 6 percent of China’s total imports last
year. Another pipeline, slated to come online in 2012, will have a capacity
to bring in 12 million cubic metres of gas from Burma into China.

Burma gives China access to the Indian Ocean through its ports, not just for
oil and gas import and export to China’s landlocked southwest, but also for
potential military bases.

The generals, meanwhile, depend on China for money and armaments. In 2006,
during a visit to Yunnan, Burma’s Commerce Minister Tin Naing Thein thanked
Beijing for being a "good neighbour" and offering "vigorous support"
following the 1988 crackdown on pro-democracry prostestors. China also
offers Burma some protection within the United Nations Security Council.

"Burma is isolated from the international community, and the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has put a lot of pressure on Burma to
improve its human rights conditions," said Yu Changsen, an associate
professor in the International Affairs Department of Sun Yat-Sen University,
located in Guandong Province. "Burma depends on China in many aspects… [The
relationship] is somewhat like that of China and North Korea."

Despite appearances, relations in recent years have been increasingly
troubled. For many years, China backed Burmese communists in their armed
struggle with the government, and many of Burma’s current leaders once
fought against the communists. Today, many Burmese view China as a pillager
of resources.

Huang Yunjing, an associate professor at Sun Yat-Sen University’s Asia-
Pacific Research Institute, said that the schisms in China-Burma relations
are overblown, noting that China’s investments in its military-ruled
neighbour continue to grow. "China and Burma share many common interests in
political, economic and security aspects," he said. "We have a good
bilateral partnership, and in many ways we support each other in a mutually
beneficial way."

But China is growing increasingly concerned about more unrest in the
troubled border region. This concern was made apparent with the recent
deployment of 5,000 People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops along China’s
southwestern border with Burma, according to reports by ‘The Irrawaddy’, a
Thailand-based news magazine run by exiled Burmese.

The threat of border skirmishes grows greater as the elections, thought to
be held sometime this summer, draw near. The generals have long sought to
consolidate power in the restive and porous regions that border Yunnan,
where ethnic minorities on both sides share blood ties.

Further violence could disrupt border trade, create a refugee crisis and
lead to increased narcotics production and trafficking. It would also put at
risk a large number of Chinese nationals in the region, according to Dr

"If that happens," Sun Yat-Sen’s Yu said, "it will definitely give the
Chinese government a headache."

Source: reposted by Burma Democratic Concern (BDC)

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