Intrigue and illness in Myanmar’s junta

Intrigue and illness in Myanmar’s junta

 

 BANGKOK – This month’s surprise announcement in Myanmar of a planned national referendum on a new constitution in May and multi-party democratic elections by 2010 are all part of Senior General Than Shwe’s game plan to hold onto power and ensure his family’s interests are secured. The question now is whether or not the junta leader’s health will hold out that long.

A major turning point in the competition occurred nearly six months ago, when Maung Aye was replaced as the head of the junta’s powerful Trade Council, right before the beginning of the August unrest. Maung Aye was also reportedly replaced as military chief during last year’s protests, where Thura Shwe Mann took charge of security arrangements, including suppression of the demonstrations, and commenced chairing crucial National Security Council meetings on Than Shwe’s orders.

Since the crackdown, however, the wheels of government have reportedly ground to a halt. “Ministers have been told directly by Than Shwe that he does not need to be consulted on any issue, other than those related to political or foreign policy issues,” said a military source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. But because officials fear making any moves that could be perceived as a challenge to Than Shwe’s power, decision-making is in gridlock, according to the source.

“There’s total inertia in [the capital] Naypyidaw. No one dares make a decision, even in regard to the smallest matters without approval from the top, which is rarely forthcoming,” a senior government official recently confided to a Western diplomat who spoke with Asia Times Online.

Read more Larry Jagan

Myanmar democracy activists urge Olympics boycott

Myanmar democracy activists urge

Olympics boycott

BANGKOK (AFP) –

Myanmar democracy activists called Monday on people across the world to boycott televised coverage of this summer’s Olympics in Beijing, in protest at China’s support for the ruling military junta.

The 88 Generation Students group, which includes some of the country’s top pro-democracy leaders, also urged viewers against buying any merchandise linked to the Games.

The Olympics are set to open on August 8, the 20th anniversary of a pro-democracy uprising led by students in Myanmar.

The military, which has ruled the country formerly known as Burma since 1962, opened fire on the crowds, killing an estimated 3,000 people.

Leaders of the uprising were handed lengthy prison sentences, but when released they formed the 88 Generation Student group.

The group began new protests in August last year, harnessing public anger at a surprise hike in fuel prices that left many unable to afford even meagre bus fares to work.

Many of the leaders were again arrested, but Buddhist monks took over the protest movement, which swelled into the biggest anti-government uprising since 1988.

In a statement issued by leaders now in hiding, the group called “for citizens around the world to pressure the government of China to withdraw its unilateral support of the Burmese military junta and to boycott the 2008 Beijing Olympics.”

“China is a major trade partner, major arms supplier and major defender of the junta in the international arena,” it said.

“The military junta in Burma is still in power to this day, despite strong and continuous resistance by the people of Burma, because of China’s support.”

The group said that instead of supporting the regime, China should help to facilitate a national dialogue among the military and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent 12 of the last 18 years under house arrest.

The military last week announced that it had completed drafting a new constitution that it plans to bring to a referendum in May. The document would bar Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace prize winner, from running in elections now slated for 2010.

Some of China’s Recent Actions

Some of China’s recent pre-Olympics actions that have been viewed as positive by the United States:

  • _ Agreeing to a U.S. request for access to sensitive military records that might resolve the fate of thousands of American servicemen missing from the Korean War and other Cold War-era conflicts.
  • _ Putting pressure on North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program.
  • _ Addressing repression with Myanmar’s military rulers.
  • _ Supporting a United Nations and African Union joint peacekeeping mission in Sudan’s Darfur region.
  • _ Agreeing to an increase in sanctions on Iran and urging Tehran to engage with the world on its nuclear program.
  • _ Making contributions to the World Bank’s International Development Association, from which it received grants until 1999.
  • _ Releasing a Hong Kong journalist charged with spying for Taiwan after he was detained for nearly three years.
  • _ Expressing a degree of willingness to open itself for limited human rights scrutiny.

Singaporean, 10 firms under US Myanmar sanctions

Singaporean, 10 firms

under US Myanmar sanctions

SINGAPORE (AFP) – A Singaporean citizen and 10 of her companies have been targeted under fresh US sanctions aimed at the Myanmar junta, adding to a list of city-state firms hit by US sanctions.

Cecilia Ng is the wife of Steven Law, whose father Lo Hsing Han is “known as the ‘Godfather of Heroin’,” according to the US Treasury Department.

The department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) named the three individuals on Monday under additional economic sanctions against supporters of Myanmar’s military regime, which the US accuses of grave human rights abuses.

The OFAC notice says Ng, born in 1958, is a Singaporean citizen who owns 10 companies including Golden Aaron Pte Ltd.

State media in Myanmar reported in December 2004 that Singapore’s Golden Aaron Pte Ltd was part of a consortium that signed an oil and natural gas exploration contract with military-ruled Myanmar.

OFAC listed Ng’s other companies as: G A Ardmore Pte Ltd, G A Capital Pte Ltd, G A Foodstuffs Pte Ltd, G A Land Pte Ltd, G A Resort Pte Ltd, G A Sentosa Pte Ltd, G A Treasure Pte Ltd, G A Whitehouse Pte Ltd, and S H Ng Trading Pte Ltd.

The Treasury Department accused Law and Lo Hsing Han of a history of involvement in illicit activities.

“Lo Hsing Han, known as the ‘Godfather of Heroin,’ has been one of the world’s key heroin traffickers dating back to the early 1970s,” it said.

“Steven Law joined his father’s drug empire in the 1990s and has since become one of the wealthiest individuals in Burma.”

Ng could not be immediately contacted for comment on the allegations.

A woman who opened the locked door at Ng’s offices in Singapore’s business district said she was not there. A plaque visible through the door listed Golden Aaron, S H Ng Trading and another firm, Kokang Singapore Pte Ltd.

Attempts to locate Ng at the condominium complex listed as her residence were also unsuccessful.

Singapore strongly denies allegations that it allows banks based here to keep illicit funds on behalf of Myanmar’s secretive generals.

Asked for comment, the foreign affairs ministry referred AFP to the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) which said the city-state, like all other leading financial centres, operates “a strict and rigorous regime” against money laundering.

“Banks and financial institutions in Singapore are required to institute strict procedures, including the need to identify and know their customers, and monitor and report any suspicious transactions,” MAS said.

“Our rules are vigorously enforced. Should there be links with illicit activity, MAS will not hesitate to take necessary action.”

In early February the US named Singaporean resident U Kyaw Thein, 60, as among those targeted under sanctions aimed at Tay Za, who the Treasury Department called an alleged “henchman” and arms dealer for Myanmar’s junta.

A Singaporean company, Pavo Aircraft Leasing Pte Ltd, was also named.

US President George W. Bush last year named three other firms with offices in Singapore as among those targeted under initial sanctions that followed the junta’s deadly September crackdown on protests led by Buddhist monks.

The city-state led regional criticism of the crackdown but rights activists accused it of not taking economic action against the regime.

The US action freezes any assets the individuals and firms have under US jurisdiction and bars Americans from conducting business with them at the risk of heavy fines and prison sentences.