Burma Democratic Concern has the firm determination to carry on doing until the democracy restore in Burma.

Friday, 17 February 2012


Reuters - Exclusive:Myanmar peace can be reached within 3 months: minister
Reuters - Myanmar eyes skytrain, underground for biggest city - minister
Aljazeera - Myanmar: Ceasefire does not mean peace
Calcutta News - Myanmar's democracy aids in better ties, trade: India
The Economic Times - India says Myanmar's democratic path will strengthen bilateral ties
Channel NewsAsia - IE Singapore, SBF lead business mission to Myanmar
Bernama - Myanmar Establishes Diplomatic Ties With Two More Countries
Bernama - Myanmar-EU Relations Improve As Myanmar Heads For Change, Reform
NPR - Opposition Leader Bets On Myanmar Reforms
ASIAONE - Myanmar 'will make Asean chairmanship a success'
Asia Times Online - Precarious balance for Myanmar reform
Asia News Network - EU official sees Burma roadmap within the year
Wall Street Journal (blog) - Suu Kyi to China: Myanmar More Than Just an Investment Opportunity
Wall Street Journal (blog) - Singapore Presses Its Advantage in Myanmar
The Financial Times - Myanmar agrees to hold UN donor conference
European Commission (Press Release) - EU Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs, Yangon, 14 February 2012
Korean Central News Agency - Floral Basket to DPRK Embassy by Myanmar Political Party
The Irrawaddy - Burma's Govt Does the Right Thing; Activists Wonder Why
The Irrawaddy - Opposition MPs Take Aim at Army Influence
The Irrawaddy - Myanmar: On Claiming Success
Mizzima News - Cheap Chinese car popular in Burma
Mizzima News - Suu Kyi, Thein Sein campaigning on jobs
Mizzima News - Rights commission to avoid ethnic conflict issues
DVB News - Govt vehicle hits landmine, one dies
DVB News - Abducted Kachin woman still missing
DVB News - S’pore keen on stake in Burma’s economy
Exclusive:Myanmar peace can be reached within 3 months: minister
By Martin Petty | Reuters – 3 hrs ago

NAYPYITAW, Myanmar (Reuters) - Myanmar's government expects to reach ceasefire deals with all of the country's ethnic minority rebel armies within three months before starting a process of political dialogue towards "everlasting peace", its top peace negotiator said on Wednesday.

In his first interview with a foreign news organization, Aung Min, a retired general and minister for rail transportation tasked with negotiating an end to the decades-old conflicts, said Myanmar's 49 years of military rule had not let peace prevail but the new civilian-led government was winning the trust of the rebel armies.

Long-lasting political solutions with economic incentives for conflict areas were within reach, he said.

"This is a chronic disease that has been happening for over 60 years. Successive governments couldn't cure the disease because the remedy didn't fit," Aung Min said.

"Things have changed in our country and this situation has now changed, this has allowed us to find the remedy."

Peace with the rebels, most of whom demand autonomy under what they call a "genuine federal system", has been set by the United States and the European Union as a condition for lifting sanctions on the former Burma, an underdeveloped but resource-rich country that has wilted under international isolation and inept army rule.

But Aung Min said the government's motive was not the lifting of sanctions.

"I don't consider other factors. We are all brethrens, no matter whether ethnic fighters or soldiers die, they are all our families," he said.

Nine of 16 rebel groups had signed ceasefire agreements with the government and he expected six more deals to be reached within a few months, including with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), one of the biggest groups, which the Myanmar military is still fighting.

He said the Kayah Nationalities Progressive Party (KNPP) would sign a deal on March 1 and five smaller parties were ready to put down their arms.

He declined to comment on the conflict in Kachin State, which rages on despite an order by President Thein Sein and the armed forces commander-in-chief for troops to end offensives.

Aung Min also said Senior General Than Shwe, the former dictator who ruled Myanmar with an iron fist for 18 years, had no influence on his former prodigies now in charge of the nominally civilian government.

"U Than Shwe has retired completely. We don't need to follow his orders or influence. There is now virtually no contact," Aung Min said. U is a Burmese honorific.

"He has a big library next to his residence. When he was in power he had no time to read books and he's reading now. We owe a debt of gratitude to him for his leadership during the transitional period, for the peaceful transition from military rule to a democratic society."

"He doesn't need to be involved. I'm very sure he'll be pleased with the situation now, looking at it from afar."

Many people in Myanmar suspect the reclusive and highly secretive former strongman, a psychological warfare specialist, has maintained a behind the scenes role.

Aung Min's comments were the first by a member of the new government lauding Than Shwe for his role in the transition since he stepped aside on March 30 last year to make way for Thein Sein's nominally civilian government.


Aung Min also rejected speculation that there was conflict in the government between reformers and hardline remnants of the junta.

"This is all rumors. We are all united behind the president," he added.

Thein Sein had laid down a three-step plan for peace with the rebel groups that involved ceasefires, political agreements and resettlement of displaced people, then a special assembly of parliament in which all of the groups would cement long-term deals, he said.

Ethnic Burmans, the country's traditional rulers, make up about two-thirds of its estimated 60 million people.

A major issue since the country gained independence from Britain in 1948 has been the demand from ethnic minority groups for self-determination.

Aung Min would not say whether that could be possible, but said arrangements could be made under a 2008 constitution, which could be amended, and the groups would be encouraged to form political parties and join parliament.

"Dialogue may take some time and then we will have a national assembly, but the more it talks, the longer it will take. The flexibility depends on the groups, we can push this through fast, or it can take time," he said.

It was difficult to gain the trust of the ethnic minority factions, he said, but most were sincere about peace and some leaders had stayed with him at his home in Naypyitaw, he said.

"At first they didn't trust me, they carried out body searches on me for weapons, they weren't brave enough to eat food I had brought, in case I poisoned them," he said.

"They didn't accept gifts and souvenirs in case there were bombs or booby-traps. I had to win their trust and confidence and I was humble with them."

He said he had approached foreign firms, many of which ran factories that were damaged during neighboring Thailand's floods last year, with a view to setting up in former conflict zones once peace deals had been reached.

Myanmar migrant workers and refugees, many of whom are in Thailand, would be encouraged to return with offers of incentives like higher wages than Thailand offers, land for farming, factory jobs and development projects in villages.

"In the past we never thought of a post-ceasefire agreement, before this, it has just been ceasefires. This is our plan for eternal peace," he said.
Myanmar eyes skytrain, underground for biggest city - minister
NAYPYITAW, Myanmar | Wed Feb 15, 2012 8:11am EST

Feb 15 (Reuters) - Myanmar's is in talks with foreign companies with a view to building elevated and underground train systems for the commercial capital Yangon, the country's rail transport minister said on Wednesday

"We are now talking with international companies for the construction of both a skytrain and underground train system for the commercial capital Yangon," the minister, Aung Min, told Reuters in an interview.

"There is no such project planned for Naypyitaw," he said, referring to the small, newly built capital.

The former capital, Yangon, is Myanmar's biggest city with an estimated 6 million of the country's 60 million people living there.

Aung Min said the train systems in Bangkok and Beijing were models for the planned Yangon system.

"The (interested) companies are Singaporean, Japanese and Germany and American ... We are now talking with them."

Asked how long it might take to build the system, he said: "We will implement this on a build, operate and transfer policy, so it depends on the terms."
Aljazeera - Myanmar: Ceasefire does not mean peace
Violence in the border regions have not ended, despite a reported ceasefire between the government and Karen rebels.
Francis Wade Last Modified: 15 Feb 2012 13:46

Chiang Mai, Thailand - Just weeks after news reports emerged of a historic ceasefire agreement between Myanmar's government and the rebel Karen National Union, the crackle of gunfire once again sounded in the country's east.

Amid jubilation that the world's longest-running civil war could be nearing an end, a Myanmar battalion on January 24 shelled a camp in Karen state housing internally displaced persons. Already attuned to life in the volatile frontier region, the camp's inhabitants fled, adding to the migration of civilians that have spent more than 60 years fleeing back and forth between their villages and jungle hideouts, pursued by marauding Myanmar troops.

The shelling, and other reports of clashes since January 12 when the two sides shook hands, spotlights the fragility of these ceasefires.

Further north in Shan state, a similar situation has unfolded: Opposition Shan State Army (SSA) troops attempting to withdraw last week from locations in the east of the state - one of a number of points agreed upon when a truce was signed in January - came under fire from Myanmar soldiers who had blocked their exit. The SSA's chief, Yawd Serk, later told followers that the government had downgraded its peace efforts, and once again its frontline troops are on high alert.

While budgets and by-elections are being hotly debated in the capital, President Thein Sein’s much-vaunted reform programme is not being witnessed in the border regions. Disparate ethnic minority groups there have long been sidelined from the political process, and conflict and coercion (including a ban on schools from teaching in the native tongue) has been used to attempt to assimilate them into the Burman majority.

But there is another increasingly evident disconnect between Naypyidaw and Myanmar’s periphery: Thein Sein appears now to have little control over his army. Twice in the past two months he has ordered troops to end attacks on rebels, with little success.

Any hope for a quick solution to the civil war is naive: Mutual animosity in these border regions runs deep, and distrust of the government is entrenched throughout these ethnic groups.

The Karen war has been raging since 1948, following an insurrection aimed at securing an independent Karen state (a result of a promise to the Karen from the departing British that never materialised), and the collateral in eastern Myanmar has been huge: More than half a million people are internally displaced in the unforgiving frontier terrain, while nearly 150,000 populate camps in neighbouring Thailand. Researchers have also documented some 3,300 villages razed by the Myanmar army.

So in this context the jubilation that initially greeted the agreement is understandable - any possible end to such a drawn-out and debased conflict should be celebrated.

But time and again Naypyidaw has reneged on past deals struck with ethnic armies. The KNU themselves are highly suspicious of the motives at play within the government, and are aware that bringing a decades-old struggle for autonomy to an end before that goal is properly realised will anger those who have lost much in this fight. Even the KNU's vice president, David Takapaw, told the New York Times this week that, "The grass roots are very much concerned that it [signing the ceasefire] went too quickly - they thought it was a sell-out. There is a feeling that we have been cheated."

This points to a tension within the ranks of the group at a time of great flux. But it also signals a gulf in thinking between those involved in the conflict, and the outside players attempting to influence events in Myanmar.

The EU and US say an end to the civil war is a perquisite for lifting sanctions and kick-starting business, a prospect that has guided the reform efforts of the new government, which cloaks its public overtures to ethnic armies in the rhetoric of human rights. These same people steering the government towards becoming an acceptable ally, who have applauded the ceasefires, somewhat naively see the conflict itself as the main problem in Karen state, rather than the heavy militarisation of rural regions that will linger way beyond any nominal truce to ensure that genuine peace remains a distant prospect.

Despite the fanfare, these ceasefire deals do not signify a valediction to a Myanmar of old. Rather, the priorities of the government have changed. While the former junta was explicit about wishing to see ethnic groups either assimilated ("Burmanised"), pacified or wiped out, Thein Sein has been forced to adopt a different approach that nevertheless seeks to bring the majority of the country under Naypyidaw's control. More pro-market than any past administration, he has put Myanmar through the facelift necessary to attract foreign investment and to ensure those investors can safely exploit the conflict-torn border regions where resistant armies currently hinder access to natural resources.

He first tried to do this using sheer force. In 2010 the government offered rebels one of two ultimatums: assimilate into the Myanmar army as Border Guard Forces or get crushed.

Widespread refusals to transform into border militias triggered a wave of fighting last year, and what had been lasting ceasefires between the government and three armed groups - the Kachin Independence Army, the Shan State Army (North) and the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army - were broken. In Kachin state, which until June last year had enjoyed relative peace for the past 17 years, up to 55,000 people are now displaced.

Failure to rout these groups, in battles that pitched rebels knowledgeable of their terrain against teenage soldiers often deployed from urban areas, forced Thein Sein along a different path. While the finer detail of the Karen talks have not been revealed, it is highly likely that the president's negotiating team offered the KNU sizeable business concessions along the frontier with Thailand, where cross-border trade in timber and other goods can generate significant returns. It would be a tantalising prospect for the group, which for decades has relied on small-scale logging ventures for revenue while the likes of the Kachin, who signed ceasefires in the mid-1990s, profited from lucrative exports of teak and jade to China.

But the deals will not create fully autonomous zones for the Karen, which had become the group's key demand in recent decades. Instead it appears troops from each side will be able to pass through one another's territory; with that, the potential for abuse of civilians by the Myanmar army remains high. Moreover, with a record that suggests heavy militarisation of regions rich in energy potential is a requirement for Myanmar, the looming investment in Karen state and elsewhere, much of which will focus on hydropower and mining, brings the threat of greater troop presence.

The Karen Human Rights Group, whose teams document abuses of civilians in the volatile state, warned in a report late last year that rosy assessments of Myanmar were being made by the international community without heeding the voices of rural people, who remain off the radar for visiting dignitaries but whose situation makes them - not outside observers - the best placed to gauge the quality of reform.

It also forewarned that nascent ceasefire deals would not necessarily mean an end to violence: "Viewing the current human rights situation in eastern Burma only through the narrow lens of the horrors of war distorts the reality of the situation and ignores the devastating effects of ingrained abusive practices."

The fire fights in Karen state are the more prominent face of a litany of problems stemming from militarisation that include forced labour, land confiscation, forcible recruitment, pillage, and so on. These will remain as long as Naypyidaw feels it necessary to keep troops in areas with populations that do not want to be brought under his control, particularly within whose lands lie precious bounty for the country's rulers.

A rushed ceasefire deal is a short-term fix for a government bent on winning plaudits, but will not solve the core problems that keep these border regions perennial areas of flight for their inhabitants.

Francis Wade is a journalist with the Democratic Voice of Burma, and has written this article in a personal capacity.
Myanmar's democracy aids in better ties, trade: India
Calcutta News.Net
Wednesday 15th February, 2012 (IANS)

As Myanmar moves forward with its democratisation process, India Wednesday said the new civilian dispensation in its neighbouring country was paving the way for furthering of their bilateral relations and for increased two-way trade.

India's Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai said the destinies of the neighbours was closely linked due to their shared land and sea borders.

"I have no doubt that as Myanmar continues on its new path charted out by its leaders, the strong ties between our two countries will only deepen and strengthen even further," Mathai said at a seminar on "India-Myanmar Relations: Strengthening Ties and Deepening Engagements" here.

The event was organised by Global India Foundation, a diplomacy think-tank, and the Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies.

Mathai said the bilateral relations between the two nations will help in "a new identity being created" in the region as a result of the enhanced economic and cultural ties.

"We are conscious of the need for greater land, air and sea connectivity between our two countries to facilitate trade. But as investment climate in Myanmar improves and connectivity improves, Indian companies are bound to invest in a variety of sectors," he said.

He said Indian business companies are actively assessing opportunities in Myanmar and the Indian government was happy to collaborate with Indian business for the Enterprise Indian Show held in Yangon last year.

The Indian foreign secretary said the most critical area of focus in India-Myanmar ties was the people-to-people contact.

He said the Indian government had extended support to Buddhist pilgrims from Myanmar and is also trying to encourage more tourist visits by extending visa-on-arrival scheme for them.

However, he acknowledged the need for increasing the air connectivity between the two countries.

In his remarks, Global India Foundation member-secretary Omprakash Mishra said India's Look East policy of the last two decades will produce result as the country's North-eastern region's connectivity and people-to-people contact improves with its neighbours such as Myanmar.
15 Feb, 2012, 03.45PM IST, PTI
The Economic Times - India says Myanmar's democratic path will strengthen bilateral ties

NEW DELHI: With Myanmar taking steps to restore democracy, India today said the new path charted by it would help strengthen ties between the two countries and enable increased investment from Indian companies there.

"I have no doubt that as Myanmar continues on its new path charted out by its leaders, the strong ties between our two countries will only deepen and strengthen even further," Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai said at a function here.

He said as the "destinies" of the two countries are closely linked both on land and on the sea, "a new identity will be created" in the region with enhanced economic and cultural ties.

"We are conscious of the need for greater land, air and sea connectivity between our two countries to facilitate trade. But as investment climate in Myanmar improves and connectivity improves, Indian companies are bound to invest in a variety of sectors," he said.

He said Indian business companies are actively assessing opportunities in Myanmar and the Indian government was happy to collaborate with Indian business for the enterprise Indian show held in Yangon in 2011.

Stating that people-to-people contact is another area of focus with Myanmar, Mathai noted the government have extended support to Buddhist pilgrims from Myanmar and is also trying to encourage more tourist visits by extending tourist visa on arrival scheme for the nationals from the country.

"We hope to soon sign a cultural exchange programme which will systematise cultural interaction between our two countries," he said.
Channel NewsAsia - IE Singapore, SBF lead business mission to Myanmar
By Linette Lim | Posted: 15 February 2012 1855 hrs

SINGAPORE: A business mission to Myanmar jointly led by International Enterprise Singapore (IE Singapore) and the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) has been received by President Thein Sein on Wednesday.

During the visit, the delegation met with top government officials and ministers where they outlined immediate and long-term plans for Myanmar's growth and development.

"There is much potential for Myanmar to achieve balanced, inclusive and sustainable growth, and these useful insights on the market, with its untapped potential, have provided us with many prospects for business collaboration," said Tony Chew, Mission Leader and SBF chairman.

"Our delegation is encouraged by the Myanmar ministers and business community to establish operations in Myanmar to tap on the competitive advantages offered."

In a statement, SBF said the ministers also "shared steps taken to create a more business friendly environment in Myanmar, through the revision of foreign investment laws and introduction of tax incentives, amongst others".

On Monday, the delegation had also called on U Myint Swe, Chief Minister of Yangon Region, and U Hla Myint, Mayor of Yangon City.

The Chief Minister touched on investment opportunities for Singapore companies in Myanmar, highlighting areas such as hospitality, power supply, utilities, municipal waste management sectors and industrial infrastructure.

"Myanmar officials and businessmen are very receptive of Singapore's participation in the development of their economy," said Tan Soon Kim, Deputy Mission Leader and Group Director for Southeast Asia Group, IE Singapore.

"A key factor that differentiates Singapore companies from others is our ability to provide a comprehensive set of solutions, as we offer a whole value chain of services. An example would be our industrial parks, where we have different companies that can build, manage the park, provide the power and utilities, process and manage the waste and also the logistics services."

Taking place from February 12 to 18, the IE-SBF Myanmar Business Mission includes 115 participants representing 74 Singapore-based companies.

They will be involved in networking and business matching sessions, as well as seminars and site visits to find out more about the business opportunities in Myanmar.

Myanmar has been earning international praise for its fast pace of economic and political reforms since its first civilian President, ex-military man Thein Sein assumed office last March. This has also raised the possibility of the lifting of US and EU sanctions on the country.

In a widely anticipated by-election on April 1, pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party will contest more than 40 parliamentary seats.
15 Februari, 2012 13:12 PM
Myanmar Establishes Diplomatic Ties With Two More Countries

YANGON, Feb 15 (Bernama) -- Myanmar has established diplomatic ties with two more countries -- Malawi and Bhutan at ambassadorial level in the start of 2012, according to official sources from Nay Pyi Taw Wednesday.

Two joint communiques on the establishment were respectively signed between Myanmar's Ambassador and the High Commissioner of Malawi in New Delhi on Jan 30 and between Permanent Representative of Myanmar to the United Nations and his Bhutan counterpart in New York on Feb 1, Xinhua news agency reported.

The diplomatic establishment with Malawi and Bhutan has brought the total number of countries in the world with which Myanmar has such links to 105 and 106 since it regained independence in 1948.

According to the Foreign Ministry, Myanmar has so far set up embassies in 30 countries and two permanent missions in New York and Geneva, and four consulates-general in China's Hong Kong, Kunming and Nanning, and India's Calcutta, respectively.

Meanwhile, 28 countries have their embassies in Myanmar. In addition, China and India have respectively set up consulates- general in Myanmar's Mandalay, the second largest city, while Switzerland in Yangon and Bangladesh in Sittway.
February 15, 2012 13:47 PM
Myanmar-EU Relations Improve As Myanmar Heads For Change, Reform

YANGON, Feb 15 (Bernama) -- Relations between Myanmar and the European Union (EU) started to improve as Myanmar is heading for change and reform which are being gradually introduced after a new civilian government took office in March 2011, Xinhua news agency reported.

European Union Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs visited Myanmar from Feb 12 to 14. At the conclusion of his visit on Tuesday, Piebalgs voiced support and encouragement for Myanmar' s current change and reform, saying that such measures may lead to the easing of sanctions on the country.

"The measures will be fully reviewed in April. The conduct of by-elections on April 1 and the release of political prisoners will influence the outcome", Piebalgs said.

In constructive talks with President U Thein Sein, Speaker of the House of Representatives U Shwe Mann and four ministers including Foreign Minister U Wunna Maung Lwin in Nay Pyi Taw, Piebalgs announced a new aid package of 150 million euros (US$200 million) for the next two years, doubling EU aid since 1996.

The fund, which will beef up the current aid provided by the United Nations and non-governmental organizations since 1996, is said to finance projects in the areas of health, education and livelihood.

The EU had provided 174 millions euros to Myanmar since 1996 to help fight malaria and tuberculosis and improve infrastructures in rural areas.

He disclosed that the aid had been able to help almost 90,000 people cultivate the land and have access to food, bring 6 million children to school and treat 2 million people with malaria and 600, 000 with HIV.

He also expressed readiness to increase aid to foster Myanmar's development in the coming years when market access is restored.

He commended the government for the significant progress in advancing the peace process, agreeing with the government "to explore support for the peace process in the ethnic states".

He discussed with the government on cooperation on human rights, rule of law and release of political prisoners.

He encouraged the government to ensure a free and fair electoral process during the campaign and on election day.

Piebalgs hoped that after April by-elections, Myanmar and the EU could engage in a new chapter of political, economic and development cooperation.

He added that he had an open and constructive meeting with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon and visited an EU- funded project in Dala township.

He disclosed that EU will open a representative office in Yangon to manage aid programs by the end of April.

Meeting in Brussels in January, EU foreign ministers, recognizing Myanmar's political reforms, agreed to ease travel restrictions on its senior government officials, lifting the visa ban on Myanmar's president, vice presidents, cabinet members and parliamentary speakers.

The reforms have included the release of hundreds of political prisoners, the freeing of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from years of house arrest and allowing her and her party to participate in the April parliamentary by-elections and agreeing to pursue peace efforts with ethnic armed groups.

Further easing of restrictions will be possible as Myanmar introduces more reforms.

EU introduced sanctions on Myanmar in 1996 which was renewed annually. The sanctions also included barring EU companies and organizations from investing in Myanmar.

Piedalgs claimed that his trip to Myanmar was "to assess the ongoing reform and encourage their continuation".

It was also the first trip to Myanmar by a top EU official after the new government took office in March 2011 and started reform.
NPR - Opposition Leader Bets On Myanmar Reforms
by Anthony Kuhn, February 15, 2012

The military-backed government of Myanmar, also known as Burma, has surprised many skeptics with the pace of its political reforms — releasing political prisoners, easing censorship and making peace with ethnic insurgents.

But none of these reforms have won it as much praise as its efforts to mend fences with opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. After nearly two decades under house arrest, Suu Kyi is now aiming to work for democracy within the system by running for a seat in parliament.

Lately, she has been on the campaign trail, standing up through the sunroof of her SUV, gathering up bouquets of flowers and cheers from well-wishers. Her supporters pack the dusty roads leading to the township of Kawhmu, the rural constituency she hopes to represent.

Campaigning For Parliament

At the entrance to one village, Suu Kyi is greeted by ethnic Karen residents, chanting a traditional welcome. The farmers' mouths are stained a rusty red from chewing betel nut. Their cheeks are smeared with a white herbal sunblock. Kawhmu is deep in the countryside, a four-hour drive from Yangon, the country's largest city.

Suu Kyi says she chose the area for its ethnic diversity. The area was hard-hit by Cyclone Nargis in 2008, and many residents were angry at the government's slow and feeble response to the emergency.

Suu Kyi asks the villagers for their support as they sit in a sun-baked field. She says she's wary of making campaign pledges, warning that the road to a better Burma will not be an easy one. The recent political reforms haven't changed much in Kawhmu. There's not much industry and not many jobs here.

"I and a lot of folks here want to vote for Suu Kyi," says 25-year-old farmer Sa Tun Lin. "I don't understand politics too well, but I want to choose someone who will work hard for the benefit of the people."

Suu Kyi is the daughter of Gen. Aung San, the Burmese national hero who negotiated independence from Great Britain in 1947. She didn't get into politics until 1988, and she has spent much of the time since then under house arrest.

Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, boycotted the 2010 elections as unfair. It was not until last December that she announced that she had changed her mind and decided to return to electoral politics.

Skepticism Over Reforms

Some of her colleagues, including the party's co-founder, 82-year-old Win Tin, think she is too optimistic.

"I don't know whether you can trust, you see, this government or this president and so on," he says. "You cannot easily trust the army. The army can take power at any time according to that constitution."

Win Tin, a journalist who spent nearly two decades in jail for his political activism, would prefer to build up the party before competing in elections. But he says he knows that Suu Kyi is "The Lady," and the only person with the charisma and credentials needed to lead the Burmese pro-democracy movement.

"We have some different opinions on some issues," he concedes, "but anyhow, I stand with her, I follow her and I support her."

If she's elected to parliament, Suu Kyi says she wants to revise the constitution, which mandates a leading role for the army and gives it the right to invoke emergency powers that can be exercised without any accountability.

'Joining Our Efforts'

Even if Suu Kyi and her party sweep the April 1 by-elections, the military and the ruling party will still hold an overwhelming advantage in parliament. Pushing any major revisions through will be difficult.

Speaking at party headquarters, Suu Kyi says diplomatically that she's not trying to get the military to give up any of its power.

"I would like the military to cooperate with us in building democracy in Burma," she insists. "It's not a matter of relinquishing anything, but of joining in our efforts."

Suu Kyi appears to be gambling that the new administration is serious about democratic reform. The government, meanwhile, is gambling that embracing Suu Kyi will persuade foreign powers to lift their sanctions on Myanmar.

Officials have raised the possibility that that once in parliament, Suu Kyi could go from lawmaker to Cabinet minister. Her party won a landslide electoral victory in 1990, but the ruling junta refused to stand aside. Whether Suu Kyi and the party could some day have another chance at holding power will have to wait at least until the next general election in 2015.
ASIAONE - Myanmar 'will make Asean chairmanship a success'
By Samantha Boh Wednesday, Feb 15, 2012

Singapore welcomes Myanmar's chairmanship of Asean in 2014, Foreign Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

As the face of the 10-member organisation, Myanmar will have to defend Asean's interests as well as its own, he said.

The country will have to reassure external partners that, under its chairmanship, Asean would make progress towards a more united and connected Asean community.

"The world will be watching. Given the stakes, I am confident that Myanmar will work hard to make its Asean chairmanship a success," said Mr Shanmugam.

Myanmar voluntarily skipped its turn as chairman in 2005 and Asean foreign ministers agreed at the time to allow it to assume the position when it was ready.

Mr Shanmugam said Singapore's bilateral relations with Myanmar remain good, and that Singapore will continue to support the country through capacity building, economic and human-resource development, and public administration.

In response to a question as to whether Myanmar's chairmanship would be reviewed should it regress to its previous state of affairs, Mr Shanmugam said significant developments in Myanmar should be encouraged.

If "the course changes", further consideration will be needed, but "we will cross that bridge when we come to it", he said.
Feb 16, 2012
Asia Times Online - Precarious balance for Myanmar reform
By Larry Jagan

BANGKOK - The future of Myanmar's reform process is in question as hardliners and liberals in government ramp up an increasingly bitter power struggle. Change in Myanmar remains fragile despite some encouraging reform signals and growing international goodwill towards President Thein Sein.

So far, though, President Thein Sein's good intentions have produced only limited practical change. Now, there are growing fears that the recent political gains, including the release of political prisoners and allowances for the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) to contest upcoming by-elections, could be reversed.

The reason is that the more liberal-minded ministers who support Thein Sein and his reform agenda are being cramped by persistent pressure from hardliners led by Vice President Tin Aung Myint Oo and other ministers who seem intent to derail reforms despite publicly declaring their support for democratic change.

Analysts and activists are split on whether these signs of change are genuine or a smokescreen to hide the regime's real intention to keep the military in power for as long as possible under the guise of civilian rule. Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has so far tentatively endorsed Thein Sein's reforms but according to sources close to her remains cautious.

Much rides for all sides on by-elections scheduled for April 1, where 46 of parliament's total 664 seats will be up for grabs and Suu Kyi will contest a seat on the outskirts of Yangon. The NLD overwhelmingly won polls held in 1990 but the military annulled the results and maintained its grip on power. The party failed to register and contest the 2010 elections and was banned as a result.

Both the European Union and United States have indicated they may roll back their economic and financial sanctions with more progress on reforms, including the holding of free and fair by-elections in April. The elections should also provide clarity about whether government reformers or hardliners are on the ascendency as well as the pace and extent of future reforms.

According to one government insider's estimate, around 20% of current ministers are in the liberal camp while another 20% fall with the hardliners. The other 60% are believed to be sitting on the fence waiting to see and side with whoever wins the intensifying power struggle, according to the government insider.

Other observers believe that the apparent divisions and splits among the ruling elite, both sides with military backgrounds, are being well-orchestrated and stress that the nature of the regime has not changed. They believe that even though the old military guard - led by former junta leader Senior General Than Shwe - have retired they still pull strings from behind the political curtain.

"President Thein Sein is a puppet of the new Myanmar government's strategy known as the eight-steps," said Aung Lynn Htut, a former military intelligence officer who defected when stationed as a diplomat in Washington in 2005, told Asia Times Online. "Than Shwe still directs policy and controls everything from behind the door," he said.

Others with links to top members of Thein Sein's government disagree and argue that the new nominally civilian government is sincere in its desire to bring reform, development and peace to Myanmar after decades of devastation and destruction under heavy-handed military rule.

"Thein Sein and his supporters are motivated by a 'gentlemen's' agenda," Myanmar academic, writer and editor Nay Win Maung, who died of a heart attack on January 1, frequently said of the new government he personally advised. Old soldiers now in government and aligned with Thein Sein are now motivated by a new sense of fair play and public duty, sources close to the current Myanmar leadership told this correspondent.

Many of them now claim to have abhorred Than Shwe's abusive rule, including its mass corruption, international isolation and the tarnished image it gave the army across the country. To reverse Than Shwe's legacy is one of the key drivers behind Thein Sein's reform agenda, they contend.

Thein Sein recently told Norway's development minister that he had wanted to reform the country for a long time but was frustrated by Than Shwe's control, according to diplomats in Yangon. Thein Sein's wife told Suu Kyi that her husband wanted to introduce reforms for more than a decade but was powerless to do so, even when serving as prime minister under the previous Than Shwe-led military junta.

Pent up reformer
Some close to Thein Sein believe that the 2007 mass demonstrations by Buddhist monks against the previous military junta he led and the devastation and destruction caused the following year by Cyclone Nargis impressed on him the need for dramatic change, according to military sources in the capital, Naypyidaw.

Thein Sein was reportedly physically shaken by the devastation he observed when inspecting storm-hit areas and overseeing the government's relief work after Cyclone Nargis, a close aide to the president told Asia Times Online. Nor is Thein Sein apparently alone in this view: there are also many in the bureaucracy and military who are firmly committed to his democratic reform agenda.

"There are those in the military with honorable intentions and who want to be seen as improving the sorry lot of the people," said David Steinberg, a Myanmar expert at the US's Georgetown University. These same soldiers have a strong sense of nationalism and strong desire to redeem the honor of the military, Steinberg said.

Reforms have so far been implemented in an ad hoc, personalized manner. For example, Railways Minister Aung Min now leads the government's negotiations with various armed ethnic rebel groups to sign ceasefire agreements. Some of the ethnic leaders involved in the talks who spoke with this correspondent say that they trust in Aung Min's sincerity.

"It's personal," an ethnic Karen leader told Asia Times Online soon after the armed Karen National Union (KNU) signed a truce last month to end hostilities and agreed to exchange liaison offices with the government. Trust with the Karen was built during relaxed drinking sessions at preliminary meetings held last November in Thailand's northern Chiang Rai province, according to a source familiar with the situation.

During one of the toasts, Aung Min apparently endeared himself to certain Karen representatives when he pleaded personally that the KNU refrained from attacking public railways. There had been several attacks on Myanmar's railways earlier in the year that were believed to have been carried out by the KNU.

Some observers believe that personalized approach could eventually backfire. "Everything appears to be the result of personal connections - even the relationship between Aung San Suu Kyi and the president," said a former European diplomat who has spent more than 15 years involved in Myanmar. "That is the major flaw in this whole process - there is no overall plan so it can be thrown out overnight if circumstances change."

"Until these changes are institutionalized, there is a danger of them being reversed in the future, especially if corruption continues and there is violence," said Thailand-based former activist and development specialist Aung Naing Oo, who recently visited Myanmar for the first time in over 20 years.

The overriding concern of Myanmar's ruling establishment - both liberals and hardliners alike - is to maintain peace and stability during the political transition. Fear of renewed bouts of unrest could explain why the highly anticipated release of political prisoners was delayed for several months. Those fears also likely motivated the recent arrest and questioning of Buddhist monk U Gambira, who was recently released early from a 68-year prison sentence for his role in the 2007 uprising against the government.

Than Shwe's transitional plan clearly intended to delay reforms and pit military groups against one another in a divide and rule fashion. The 2008 constitution, which was passed in a sham referendum and embodies Than Shwe's vision for the Myanmar's political future, was intended to create a system of power sharing whereby no individual would become powerful enough to challenge his position and family's wealth. Than Shwe famously detained and harassed the family members of former long time military dictator Ne Win.

Than Shwe's new system also aims to create a structure that makes legal change difficult, including a requirement than over three-quarters of parliament must agree to make constitutional amendments. A quarter of parliament is made up of military representatives, giving the military virtual veto power over any proposed charter change.

Gentleman's agreement
However, Than Shwe seems to have failed to foresee that new President Thein Sein, speaker of the lower house Shwe Mann and army chief General Min Aung Hlaing would reach a "gentlemen's agenda" in ruling the country. This agreement has spurred an accelerated reform process that has gained momentum and moral authority through Suu Kyi's public support and upcoming participation in the process.

Often overlooked in Myanmar's evolving transition is the role parliament has played in the reform process. Analysts and activists widely believed that the upper and lower houses of the new National Assembly would rarely meet and when they did would dutifully follow a pre-arranged script - much like the Burma Socialist Program Party (BSPP) parliament in the mid-1970s did under Ne Win.

So far that has not been the case. Parliament speaker Shwe Mann was apparently devastated when Than Shwe overlooked him and chose Thein Sein as president, confining Shwe Mann instead to what was expected to be a rubber stamp parliament. To give parliament a more representative veneer, Shwe Mann has lent his support to Suu Kyi's and the NLD's participation in the upcoming by-elections.

He also reportedly told US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a meeting at Naypyidaw in December that he wanted to make Myanmar's new parliament as good as the US Congress.

"We have taken the necessary measures so that the upcoming by-elections will be free, fair and credible," Shwe Mann told European Union development commissioner Andris Piebalgs, speaking through an interpreter, earlier this week.

The manner in which the by-elections are held, even more than the actual results, may indicate the future direction of the gentlemen's agreement. At the least, the by-election results will affect the ruling Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP), which swept the November 2010 elections in a contest foreign observers said lacked credibility but is expected to face stiffer competition, including from the NLD, at the next general elections scheduled for 2015.

Thein Sein has unofficially announced that he will only serve one term as president; Shwe Mann has made it clear he would like to one day serve as president. To win a free and fair election in 2015, however, he will need to purge the USDP of dead wood and obstacles - including hardliners like Aung Thaung, Htay Oo and Maung Maung Thein, according to Shwe Mann's senior advisors.

The hope among Shwe Mann's allies in government is that a lopsided by-election win for the NLD will provide him with the political excuse to clean house and purge hardliners opposed to reforms. If Suu Kyi wins a seat in parliament, Shwe Mann will be expected to allow her to become opposition leader. However, any strategy leveraging Suu Kyi to gain political ground against hardliners will be fraught with dangers and could open new divisions with those who currently support the reform process.

"What is remarkable is the way in which Thein Sein and company have reached out to her [Suu Kyi] since August last year [when they first met in Naypyidaw]," said Justin Wintle, a British academic and writer of a biography on Suu Kyi. "The signs are that this has not been a cynical move. One way of dealing with your political enemies is to co-opt them, but this is a genuine attempt to reconfigure Myanmar," he said.

Yet even this potentially crucial move reflects the ad hoc nature of Myanmar's still tentative reform process. If Suu Kyi is elected to parliament at the upcoming by-elections, she will quickly emerge as a challenger to Shwe Mann and the USDP's current dominance at the 2015 polls. "I know, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it," Shwe Mann reportedly recently replied to his son Toe Naing Mann, according to sources close to the family.

Larry Jagan previously covered Myanmar politics for the British Broadcasting Corporation. He is currently a freelance journalist based in Bangkok.
EU official sees Burma roadmap within the year
Yasmin Lee Arpon Asia News Network
Publication Date : 15-02-2012

Burma is likely to come up within a year a comprehensive plan charting its political and economic reforms, a move that is seen boosting the confidence of the international community, a ranking European Union official said Tuesday.

Andris Piebalgs, EU commissioner for development, said the situation continues to evolve in Burma and a free and credible by-elections in April would be very crucial in sustaining the optimistic response so far to the government policy of opening up its economy and improving its political environment.

"I believe the political issues, the by-elec

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