US ready to engage with Burmese military, officials say

United States Ambassador to Burma Derek Mitchell, Major General Anthony Crutchfield, and Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour Tom Malinowski at the US Embassy in Rangoon on 28 June, 2014. (PHOTO: DVB)

A delegation of senior officials from the United States has left Burma with the message that “it is time to engage” the country’s military.

Speaking to reporters in Rangoon on Saturday, Tom Malinowski, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labour, said that the US is preparing for “cautious” engagement, which could include non-combat training.

“The purpose of this engagement, the sole purpose, was and is to speak to the military about the importance of human rights, the rule of law and civilian control,” Malinowski said. He added that “there is the potential for a deeper partnership, even a full partnership, in the future.”

The assistant secretary led a week-long delegation of officials from the US military and treasury department, making stops in Moulmein, Hpa-an, Rangoon and Naypyidaw.  They met with a range of Burmese politicians, ethnic leaders and specially designated nationals, or blacklisted entities.

The delegation also met with Burma’s Commander-in-Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and members of the Union Election Commission. The purpose of the tour, Malinowski said, was to engage the Burmese government on a range of issues including ensuring free and fair elections and determining the future role of the Burmese military.

Also present at Saturday’s briefing was Maj-Gen Tony Crutchfield, one of the highest-ranking US military officials ever to visit Burma. Crutchfield explained that military-to-military assistance will not include training combat forces or exchange of weapons systems. Engagement could include professional training sessions and disaster relief preparedness, he said.

In the first address ever given by an American officer at the Myanmar National Defence College in Naypyidaw, Crutchfield spoke to young soldiers on Wednesday about professionalism, ethical conduct and the importance of civilian control over military actions.

“What I tried to do is portray an alternate future for the Myanmar military,” Crutchfield said at the briefing. “I painted a picture of what’s possible; a more professional military, a military that is trusted by you, the people.”

In addition to warming the American military relationship with Burma, officially known as Myanmar, the delegation spent a day in Rangoon meeting with several blacklisted entities. Malinowski said that these meetings consisted of laying out guidelines that could lead to their removal from the specially designated nationals list. “How soon is up to them,” he said, “but they are going to have to make some fundamental changes.”

Malinowski was appointed as the assistant secretary of state in April of this year. He previously served as the Washington director of Human Rights Watch, one of the world’s leading rights research and advocacy bodies.

In his press remarks, Malinowski reiterated that the US remains “profoundly concerned” by the humanitarian situation in western Burma’s Arakan State, where ethno-religious riots have left hundreds dead and more than 140,000 displaced, many still living in isolated camps that are systematically denied access to life-saving assistance.

The US has maintained a distant relationship with Burma throughout the country’s decades of military dictatorship, but has shown a willingness to engage since the transition to a nominally civilian government in early 2011. Economic sanctions were eased beginning in 2012, though Burma remains subject to some restrictions on investment as of May 2014, when President Barack Obama renewed a national emergency order.


2.6 million sign petition for 436 amendment: NLD

File Photo: The NLD leader has ended a week long trip to Europe, where she found support for her constitutional reform agenda.

Some 2.6 million people from Rangoon, Mandalay and Magwe divisions have thrown their support behind a petition by the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party calling for amendments to constitutional Article 436.

The petition is a collaboration between the NLD and activist group 88 Generation Peace and Open Society (88GPOS) and was launched earlier this year to garner nationwide support for amending the clause, which stipulates that any constitutional amendment requires the approval of 75 percent of parliament. The two groups say that it is undemocratic because it provides the military – which is appointed 25 percent of parliamentarian seats – veto power on any proposed amendments.

NLD spokesman Htin Linn Oo said the party has only counted signatories from Rangoon, Mandalay and Magwe divisions, though it has received a lot of backing from people in other states and divisions as well.

“So far we have counted around 2.6 million signatures, but that’s not all of Burma,” Htin Linn Oo said. “We are still waiting for numbers from places such as northern Sagaing Division and Kachin State, which are hard to reach.”

He also said that people in Mandalay Division’s Aungmyay Tharzan Township faced harassment when they signed the petition.

“A group of men came in and started bad-mouthing those who were there to sign the petition, denouncing them for ‘failing to protect the country’,” Htin Linn Oo said, adding that the party is investigating whether the mob were hired by anyone.

Speaking on Sunday from Rangoon, NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi reiterated how the Constitution, as it currently stands, allows the military an inordinate amount of power.

“If we don’t change 436, it means that the military has virtual veto power over what can or cannot be changed within the Constitution, and I think it should be the elected representatives of the people who decide whether or not the Constitution should be changed,” she was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Amending Article 436 would also open the door to amending other constitutional articles, particularly one that directly concerns Suu Kyi’s ability to run for president in next year’s general elections — Article 59(f), which stipulates that anyone whose spouse or children are foreign-born is prohibited to run for president or vice president. Suu Kyi was married to a British national and has two children by him.

But Suu Kyi said that her party’s focus has always been on Article 436.

“We were never focused on 59(f). It was others who were focused on it,” she said. “We always knew that the key one was 436.”

This nationwide push for support will continue until 19 July, the NLD has said, noting that recent events in some parts of Kachin and Chin states were halted by local authorities.


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Italian town awards honorary citizenship to Unity journalists

In this file photo, Unity staff are taken to a court hearing in Pakokku on 17 March 2014. (Photo: Robert San Aung)
Sala Baganza, a small town in northern Italy with a population of five and a half thousand, has awarded honorary citizenship to the four journalists and CEO of Unity Weekly journal who are currently on trial in Burma for allegedly revealing state secrets.

On the night of 12 June, the town council of Sala Baganza, situated near Parma, sat for an extraordinary meeting at which the 12 members voted unanimously to extend the honour of citizenship to the five Burmese for “exceptional and humanitarian reasons”.

“The city of Sala Baganza hereby confers honorary citizenship to reporters Thae Yar Zar Oo, Kyaw Thet Paing [aka Aung Thura], Lu Maw Naing, Si Thu, and [CEO] U Tin Soe San [aka Hsin Hsan], who through their professional activities ensure the right to freedom of opinion and expression in their country, Myanmar,” the statement read.

Speaking to DVB, the mayor of Sala Baganza, Cristina Merusi, said, “Freedom of information is the basis of democracy in a free country. To support this freedom that we have through journalism and those who practice it, we decided to honour the five journalists of Unity Weekly in Burma through an act which for us is very important – honorary citizenship of our town.

“No more than 70 years ago, we in Italy were in similar conditions,” she said. “Today we hope to be useful to Burma as it struggles to achieve democracy and human dignity.”

Robert San Aung, one of the lawyers for the defendants, told DVB on Friday that the five detained media workers had been informed of the award.

“Their families were very proud when they heard the news,” he said.

Charged under Article 3 of the Official Secrets Act, the five were accused of revealing state secrets after publishing a report in January about a government facility being constructed in Magwe’s Pauk Township by the Burmese military, which they alleged to be a chemical weapons factory.

The final day of their trial is on Monday, 30 June, when a verdict is expected.

While noting that honorary citizenship is a symbolic award, Mayor Merusi said that the residents of her town would “be following the Unity journalists’ fate by all possible means, because they are now our fellow citizens”.

She added that she wanted to invite the Unity journalists and CEO Tin Soe Tan to Sala Baganza to officially receive certificates of citizenship.

Guiseppe Malpeli, the president of the Italy-Burma Friendship Association, applauded the award.

“The Italy-Burma Friendship Association, of which I am President, follows the daily lives and history of the Burmese people. We are very close to the material conditions and freedom of the people and of Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi,” he told DVB.

“Because there may be free elections in 2015, it is necessary that there is absolute freedom of the press. We see the difficulties arising from the arrest of the Unity journalists and we want to help them, and to encourage true freedom of information in Burma.”

Malpeli confirmed that he was sending news of the honorary citizenship awards to senior Burmese government officials, including President Thein Sein, Minister for Home Affairs Lt-Gen Ko Ko and Attorney General Tun Shin.

“The residents of Sala Baganza will be following the Unity journalists’ fate by all possible means, because they are now our fellow citizens.”

Meanwhile, on 12 June, a resolution was passed in the Italian parliament in Rome supporting the Burmese opposition’s campaign to enact constitutional reform, and in particular thowing its weight behind National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s bid to run for president in the 2015 elections.

“We strongly believe that there is a need to establish a state with federal democratic self-determination and equality,” resolution 7-00389 states. “The 2008 Constitution does not guarantee a democratic federal state. We strongly believe that the 2008 Constitution should be amended or a new Constitution drawn up.

“The will of the Italian people for an increase in trade and economic cooperation, social, cultural and political life with the people of Myanmar rests on a basis of common shared values ​​of democracy, and therefore it is necessary that our institutions and civil society strongly support the need for the Constitution to be revised to ensure that Myanmar’s general election of 2015 will be free and fair,” it concluded.

In October 2013, Italy’s Foreign Affairs Committee of the Chamber of Deputies approved a resolution committing the government to “intervene in every avenue” to promote the democratic process in Burma.

Suu Kyi paid a four-day visit to Italy in October last year when she met senior government figures, including the Italian president, speaker of the house, prime minister and foreign minister.


Amid active territorial disputes, China's president tells others to pursue peace

Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, walks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Indian Vice President Hamid Ansari, centre, and Myanmar President Thein Sein in Beijing. Photo: AP
William Wan

Beijing: Chinese President Xi Jinping deployed an unusual defence on Saturday of China's foreign and military policies: the celebration of an obscure, decades-old treaty called the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence.
Alongside Myanmar's president and India's vice president, Mr Xi presided over an event replete with lofty ideals. Ostensibly, the ceremony's goal was to commemorate the treaty's 60th anniversary.
But it also served as an attempt to rebut criticism and concern from Asian and US leaders over China's recent territorial claims.
In a speech about the principles, Mr Xi outlined China's basic framework for foreign policy. Much of his speech stressed China's peaceful nature and focused on the concept of non-interference in the affairs of other countries. But Mr Xi also declared that "no infringement upon the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a country is allowed."
To many Asian leaders, China's foreign policy of late has been anything but aimed at peaceful coexistence. China has engaged in volatile confrontations with several neighbours over claims in the South China Sea.
Riots broke out last month in Vietnam after China installed an oil rig in disputed waters. China's navy remains in a standoff with the Philippines over a region called the Scarborough Shoal. And China's relations with Japan have been tense since China last year declared an air defence identification zone over disputed islands. The United States, Japan's ally, promptly responded by sending two bombers through the zone.
Meanwhile, US attempts to pivot military and diplomatic attention from the Middle East toward Asia have elicited one consistent response from China: Butt out of Asian affairs. Without naming the United States, Mr Xi made pointed remarks on the doomed policies of any country seeking to impose its will on others.
Some of Mr Xi's comments, however, seemed to fly in the face of China's increased aggression in recent years as its military and economic might have grown.
"Flexing military muscles only reveals the lack of moral grounds or vision rather than reflecting one's strength," Mr Xi said.
The speech was one of the few major domestic addresses open to foreign news media that Mr Xi has made since he took power in 2012.
In the weeks leading to Saturday's ceremony, state-run media here have published a string of articles and commentaries on the legacy of China's "Five Principles."
The principles were laid out in 1954 by China's then-Premier Zhou Enlai and helped to establish stable relations with India and Myanmar, then known as Burma. The principles can be summarised as mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual nonaggression, non-interference in one another's internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence.
China has chosen to highlight the five principles precisely because of the disputes with its neighbours, said Ji Qiufeng, a professor of international relations at Nanjing University.
The principles' peaceful goals are the essence of foreign relations, Mr Ji said. "No country in the world could argue against them."
As for any contradictions between the principles' goals of peace and what some view as China's aggressive recent actions, Mr Ji summed up Mr Xi's basic point.
"For the disputes in the South China Sea, the problem is not with China. It's with the other countries," he said.

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Chinese, Indian, Myanmar leaders mark 60-year-old peace principles

The conference marking the 60th anniversary of the five principles of peaceful coexistence is held in Beijing, capital of China, June 28, 2014.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, Myanmar President U Thein Sein and Indian Vice President Mohammad Hamid Ansari gathered in Beijing on Saturday to mark the 60th anniversary of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence.

Xi delivered a keynote speech at the meeting at the Great Hall of the People in downtown Beijing to commemorate the anniversary.

China's premier Li Keqiang, top legislator Zhang Dejiang and top political advisor Yu Zhengsheng were also present at the commemoration.

In 1954, leaders of China, India and Myanmar initiated the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, which stand for mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other's internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence.

Shanghai Daily

Mogok environmentalists wade in to clean up lake

Environmental groups in Mandalay say they are fed up with the level of pollution in one of their region’s most picturesque landmarks.

Mogok Lake is a major tourist attraction and a well-known scenic spot located 100km north of the city.

The surrounding area is known as Ruby Land, and too draws many visitors for its breathtaking views, with the rainy season mist only adding to its charm and beauty.

But the lake has become polluted. Now after years of neglect on the part of the local government, environmentalists have decided to take matters into their own hands.

Environmental groups Sein Yaung So Activities and Sein Lan Mogok have teamed up with a local National League for Democracy (NLD) office, and are staging a mass clean-up of the lake.

Ye Aung, Sein Lan Mogok’s coordinator, says that human-induced changes to the local ecosystem have led to a spike in the growth of weeds.

“The poor waste disposal system in the homes surrounding the lake has led to the growth of water hyacinth which thrive with the nitrogen,” he said.

The lake plays an important role in the area’s ecosystem, and the groups say the clean-up campaign will go a long way in protecting the local flora and fauna.

Local NLD member Pwint Phyu says that it is crucial to fight back in order to restore balance to the ecosystem.

“We are doing what we can to preserve our environment. Mogok Lake is a landmark in this region and it also helps balance the weather in the area.

“From an environmental point of view, this lake is priceless,” she added

Lakes in the city of Mandalay are cleaned and maintained by local authorities, but officials in Mogok appear to have taken their eye off the ball.

This is the second time that this coalition of environmental groups and the NLD have taken up the reins and cleaned the lake themselves.

Blessed with such outstanding natural beauty at their doorstep, the people of Mogok say their lake should be preserved for future generations.

“This lake can be regarded as the jewel of the town,” said Maung Maung Oo of Seing Yaung So Activities

“If we can restore its natural beauty, it will enhance the landscape. However at the moment, it’s in a dire condition.”


Thein Sein gets red carpet treatment in Beijing

Burma's President Thein Sein (right) walks with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, as he arrives to a guard of honour at Beijing Airport on Friday, 27 June 2014. (PHOTO: NLM)

Burma’s President Thein Sein received a guard of honour when he arrived in Beijing in Friday ahead of trilateral talks with China and India.

Chinese President Xi Jinping hosted Thein Sein for cordial talks after the latter’s arrival in the Chinese capital on Friday. According to Chinese media, Xi hailed Sino-Burmese cooperation as “reciprocal and win-win”, and said his government encourages Chinese enterprises to invest in Burma, officially known as Myanmar.

China’s president said he “expects the two sides to create a favorable environment for the smooth operation of large-scale projects involving energy, mining, gas pipelines and hydro-electricity, as well as agricultural projects,” state agency Xinhua reported.

“Xi said China welcomes Myanmar’s participation in the construction of the 21st century Maritime Silk Road and the development of an economic corridor between Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar,” the report said.

The so-called Maritime Silk Road is expected to be high on the agenda this weekend as China and India see Burma as a geopolitical thoroughfare for trade and commerce.

After the talks, the two presidents reportedly witnessed the signing of several deals, involving culture, education and medical care.

Burmese state media reported that the Chinese-backed Kyaukphyu special economic zone in Arakan State was also discussed, as well as a feasibility study for Yangon [Rangoon] General Hospital, and Chinese technical assistance for a communications network to be installed at Yadanabon Cyber City, east of Mandalay.

On Saturday and Sunday, Thein Sein is scheduled to attend a ceremony to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Announcement of the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence, a mutual non-aggression, non-interference pact that was signed between Burma, China and India in 1954.

The leaders are undoubtedly looking to take advantage of blooming economic conditions, following some decades of icy relations. China long supported Communist insurgents in Burma, while India and China went to war in 1962.

Thein Sein has previously visited China for a number of times. He paid a state visit in May 2011 and he attended the 9th China- ASEAN Expo in Nanning in 2012. The Burmese president paid two state visits to China in 2013, including another appearance at the China-ASEAN Expo in Nanning last September.

The Chinese embassy in Rangoon confirmed that Thein Sein is also scheduled to meet with China’s Premier Li Keqiang, and will pay a visit to the ancient capital of Luoyang in central China’s Henan Province.

“The attendance by H.E. President U Thein Sein and the leader of India to the commemorative activities in Beijing reflects the three countries’ determination to promote world peace and development,” the embassy said in a statement to DVB on Friday.

“China expects this visit to further consolidate bilateral good-neighbor relations, enhance strategic trust, boost pragmatic cooperation and develop the bilateral all-round strategic partnership,” an embassy spokesperson said. “China firmly pursues a friendly policy toward Myanmar and would like to work with Myanmar to deepen cooperation, benefit the two peoples and promote regional peace, stability and development.”


Pegu farmers say they must pay bribes to request land deeds

A rice farmer in central Burma. (Reuters)
Farmers in Min Hla Township in Pegu Division have told DVB that staff at the local Department of Land Statistics are asking for bribes when they request the land certificates they require in order to apply for agricultural loans.

“To get a number 7 form – a land ownership license – the staff request between 10,000 and 20,000 kyat (US$10- $20),” a local farmer said. “We need this certificate in order to request a crop-planting loan from the bank.”

“In our community, almost all the farmers need a loan from the bank at this time of year,” said Thanarpo village administrator Win Aung. “All were asked for bribes by the Land Statistics office. After we sent a letter of complaint to the township officer, then about half of the farmers were given the deeds.”

When asked about the allegations of corruption in his department, Aung San, the assistant chief officer of Min Hla Department of Land Statistics said, “I don’t know anything about these bribes. It is difficult to oversee all the staff – they are not my sons and daughters.”

A new registration process for agricultural loans was initiated in August 2012 whereby farmers had to produce evidence of land ownership to apply for a loan to pay for the expense involved in planting crops. However, many farmers were unaware of the new system and it wasn’t until the last minute that many approached the land statistics office for certificates, said Win Aung.

Rainy season has already begun in most parts of Burma, including Pegu [Bago], and farmers generally need to plant rice and other crops during the month of June, else they miss the season’s harvest.


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Military nominee pledges to improve living standards in Arakan State

Maj-Gen Maung Maung Ohn, pictured at the Myanmar Peace Center meeting on Thursday, 26 June 2014. (PHOTO: Nyo Ohn Myint)
Maj-Gen Maung Maung Ohn, nominated by the President’s Office as the next chief minister of Arakan State, has pledged to improve the living standards of the local population and restore stability to the region.

Responding to a question by a DVB reporter at a meeting to discuss Arakanese issues, hosted by the Myanmar Peace Centre in Rangoon on Thursday, Maung Maung Ohn said, “I would like to prioritise improving the living standards of Rakhine [Arakanese] people while at the same time trying to reduce conflict.

“I can see that many Arakanese people are living in poverty and feel a strong sense of antipathy toward the other community,” he said. “What we have to do, first and foremost, is explore solutions to these issues.”

By “other community”, the senior military man was clearly referring to the Muslim Rohingya community, which makes up a majority in several parts of the region. Inter-communal tensions between Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims boiled over in 2012, and the subsequent mob violence resulted in at least 200 deaths and some 140,000 people displaced from their homes.

“I think it will be hard for us to resolve this sensitive issue, so perhaps all we can do for now is improve people’s livelihoods,” said Maung Maung Ohn, who was border affairs deputy minister until recently appointed member of parliament. “This is what I plan to do when I take office – if we can significantly improve people’s standard of living, we can steadily resolve the sectarian issues.”

Maung Maung Ohn was joined at the conference on Thursday by senior government officials and representatives from Arakan-based political parties and civic society groups, as well as United Nations’ Special Advisor to Myanmar Vijay Nambiar.

Also in attendance was the chairman of the Rakhine National Network, Tin Htoo Aung, who told DVB afterwards that the government had presented a plan of action to tackle the crisis in Arakan State.

“The government representatives spoke about an action plan – this was a significant part of the meeting – and so I think our responsibility is to wait and see if they can implement it or not, and how we can cooperate,” he said.

He said that President Thein Sein has allocated a 15 billion kyat (US$15 million) budget for developing Arakan State, which is the poorest region in Burma next to Chin State.

Maung Maung Ohn said he understood that he is not the most popular candidate for the position of chief minister among many Arakanese, but vowed that he would do the best he can, and would regard the locals as his own family members.

“There were objections against me in the meeting today, but I understand the emotions. I don’t blame anyone,” said the major-general.

Meanwhile, the influential Arakan National Party (ANP) – a recent merger of the two previous largest nationalist parties in Arakan State – has released a statement calling for appointment of an ethnic Arakanese as chief minister. Maung Maung Ohn is a Burman.

The regional parliament resumes on 30 June when it is expected that Maung Maung Ohn’s appointment as chief minister will be finalised.


In eastern Burma, landmines remain an invisible curse to farmers

Vast tracts of eastern Burma are littered with landmines, remnants of a long running civil war between rebel armies and successive Burmese regimes.

Yet as ceasefire talks continue and hostile armies move towards peace, the mines continue to plague innocent villagers.

Local residents in Karenni and southern Shan states are now demanding that the government begin clearing the landscape of these deadly weapons.

Of particular concern, the villagers say, are mines laid by the Burmese army in the pastureland that surrounds electricity towers.

The national power grid stretches out through Karenni State, and throughout decades of war the Burmese army mined fields surrounding infrastructure such as the Lawpita Hydropower plant.

The towers have been designated targets by ethnic armed groups throughout the conflict in eastern Burma. Since the 1960s, locals say, these landmines have claimed the lives of civilians, cattle, and even the towers’ maintenance workers.

One staff member from Myanmar Electric Power Enterprise said that several of his co-workers have been killed.

“We have lost workers to the landmines. They usually die from their injuries,” he said. “It happens quite often around tower-36 near to Lawpita. One of our men stood on one and was killed on the spot.”

Residents in villages along the grid, which runs from southern Karenni state north into Shan State, said for generations they have lived with the constant fear of stepping on a landmine. This fear, they say, has caused psychological trauma among the local populace.

“With all the ordinance around, we feel very unsafe walking or working in the fields, trying to make a living,” said one Lawpita resident.

“Sometimes we bring our dogs to our farm work and they play around and set off a landmine.”

Ethnic political parties believe that a demining programme should go hand in hand with ceasefire agreements and peace talks between the government and ethnic armed groups.

Nan Yi, general secretary of the Kayan National Party, reinforced that sentiment.

“Since we can now see peace on the horizon, we don’t think the situation demands the use of landmines. Those who are responsible for laying these mines should begin a demining programme,” he said.

He added that fearful farmers are often the victims of an added injustice.

“Quite often, cattle owned by locals accidently set off mines. The owner, while having lost their cattle, is also made to pay compensation for the mine that exploded,” Nan Yi said.


KNU legend Tamla Baw dies peacefully, aged 94

KNU Gen. Saw Tamla Baw (1920 - 2014)
 Gen. Saw Tamla Baw, a highly respected Karen leader and elder statesman of the independence movement, has passed away at the age of 94 in his home in northern Thailand’s Mae Sariang.

Tamla Baw, born in 1920 in Mon state capital Moulmein, served in the 2nd Burma Rifles under the British government before the Japanese invasion; he became an officer in the First Karen Rifles under the British re-occupation.

He joined the Karen uprising in 1949 after Burma’s independence and joined the Karen National Union (KNU) where he fought in its armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army, ultimately being promoted to commander-in-chief. He fought for Karen autonomy for over six decades until announcing his retirement in 2012 by which time he had risen to position of KNU chairman.

Mahn Mahn, secretary-2 of the KNU, said the death of Tamla Baw, an icon of the Karen independence struggle, was an irreplaceable loss.

“Even after he retired as our chairman, he continued to keep up to date and gave advice on the political process,” he said. “He was an outstanding leader and his passing is an irreplaceable loss for us.”

KNU Secretary-1 Thaw The Bwe said Tamla Baw was an inspiration to all young Karens.

“He was a great source of inspiration for each new generation in the Karen independence movement – he was a good soldier and a natural leader,” said Thawe The Bwe. “He offered valuable guidance and revolutionary ideas.”

Tamla Baw is survived by eight children, and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He wife Naw Phaw Kawaw passed away in February.

The KNU are yet to announce details for Tamla Baw’s funeral.


Vietnamese Labor Activist Jailed For Backing Strikes is Freed

Tran Thi Ngoc Minh, the mother of Vietnamese labor activist Do Thi Minh Hanh, at a U.S. congressional hearing during a Washington visit in January 2014 to call for international support to press for Hanh’s release.
Vietnamese authorities have freed a young labor activist in poor health after she had served four years of a seven-year sentence for leafleting in support of striking footwear workers, and just months after her mother had toured the U.S. and Europe to lobby for her release.

No reason was given for the early release of Do Thi Minh Hanh, who was arrested in February 2010 along with two other activists before her imprisonment eight months later during which she suffered beatings at the hands of prison guards.

“Hanh told us yesterday that the police would bring her home,” Hanh’s father Do Ty told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Friday, speaking from his home in Di Linh in Lam Dong province in Vietnam’s central highlands.

“The call came at night, so she might be home tomorrow,” he said.

“She sounded very happy,” Do Ty said, adding that Hanh had told him she would soon be released when he visited her in prison 20 days before.

“Her health has been better, though,” he said. “When she gets home she will rest and get a full checkup.”

Hanh and the two other activists , Nguyen Hoang quoc Hung and Doan Huy Chuong, were accused of inciting workers to go on strike at the My Phong footwear company in Tra Vinh province in southern Vietnam’s Mekong Delta region, where thousands protested in January and February 2010 for better working conditions and higher wages.

Hanh was sentenced on Oct. 27 that year to seven years in prison on charges of disturbing public order and “acting against the people’s administration,” according to Article 89 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.

Hung received a nine-year term, while Chuong was sentenced like Hanh to a term of seven years.

Beaten, shackled

Hanh was repeatedly beaten and frequently shackled while confined, her mother Tran Thi Ngoc Minh told a U.S. congressional commission during a visit in January 2014 to call for international support to press for Hanh’s release.

When Hanh was arrested, “I [saw] the police beat her, causing serious injuries to her mouth and bleeding all over her face,” Minh said, testifying before a hearing of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.

Hanh was beaten again by guards at the court where she was tried, and later by “common criminals” who had been urged by police to attack her.

In an effort to “intimidate” her family, prison authorities later transferred Hanh and another prisoner to a jail at Thanh Xuan in Hanoi, more than 1,000 miles (1,610 kilometers) away, Minh said.

“Both of them, despite being seriously ill, were handcuffed and shackled in the van like animals,” Minh said. “They lost consciousness several times.”

Despite harsh treatment at the hands of authorities, prisoners of conscience in Vietnam are “patriots,” Minh said, speaking to RFA in January after the hearing.

“They dare to stand up for human rights in Vietnam,” she said.

Reported by An Nguyen and Gwen Ha for RFA’s Vietnamese Service.  Written in English by Richard Finney.

Chinese Police Round Up Thousands Ahead of Party Anniversary in Beijing

Chinese police take away an elderly woman for petitioning on Tiananmen Square, Dec. 4, 2013.
Chinese authorities have detained thousands of petitioners who defied a ban to seek government redress in Beijing ahead of the July 1 anniversary of the founding of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, according to the petitioners Friday.

The central government has banned citizens from bypassing local authorities to file petitions in Beijing from May 1 in its latest effort to streamline the chaotic petitioning system.

Despite the ban, a large number of ordinary people with complaints against the government have converged on the country's capital in a desperate bid to win redress for alleged official wrongdoing ahead of the party's founding anniversary, according to the Sichuan-based Tianwang rights website. Many of them were detained and sent to unofficial detention centers.

Liu Moxiang, a petitioner from the central province of Hubei, said she waited for hours to be booked in to Beijing's Jiujingzhuang unofficial detention center after her bus joined a long line of buses waiting to enter the facility on Thursday.

"There were so many people in Jiujingzhuang," said Liu, who had gone to the party's anti-graft agency, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, to lodge a complaint.

"They would only let a busload [of detainees] enter Jiujingzhuang after they had all been booked in," she said. "I was in the fifth bus, and there were still more buses behind us."

"This period ahead of July 1 is a very sensitive time, and Jiujingzhuang is overflowing with people hoping to get their complaints resolved."

Liu said petitioning was often the only option open to people seeking to challenge government actions in their hometowns.

"This is the only channel we have to stand up for our rights, but they won't accept our registrations at the state complaints office now," she said, referring to new rules issued on May 1 banning petitioners from going over the heads of local officials to lodge complaints that should be heard in their hometowns.

"By forbidding petitioning to higher authorities, they have cut off this channel, and once you get back home, they lock you up and won't let you out," Liu said.

"But if we don't take this route, then we have no hope left."

Sheng Lanfu, a petitioner from the northeastern province of Liaoning, said life has become much harder for China's army of petitioners since the ruling was passed.

"Its no use going to the Central Commission or the complaints office, because they just send you to Jiujingzhuang and call the interceptors from your hometown to come and take you home," Sheng said.

"Every year, on July 1, petitioners from across the country go to Beijing to lodge complaints, and there have clearly been more petitioners in town in the past few days than normal," she said.

"The party says it governs for the people...but a lot of petitioners have spent years of their lives pursuing complaints, and injustices rarely get resolved."

"Nobody cares about injustice," Sheng said. "We are just doing it as a way of expressing our anger and as a protest."

"We petitioners are really just exposing their lies."

In January, several hundred inmates of another large but unofficial detention center on the outskirts of Beijing broke out of the compound in protest at their treatment over Chinese New Year.

The petitioners stood outside the Majialou detention center and sang "The Internationale" after the breakout, saying they could no longer tolerate being kept in such a crowded place with no water to drink and not enough food to eat.

Detention in centers like Jiujingzhuang and Majialou — officially known as 'reception centers' — follows no procedure under China's current judicial system, and is an interim measure used by the authorities to briefly incarcerate those who complain before sending them home under escort.

But many petitioners still converge on major centers of government during high-level political meetings and significant dates in the calendar, in the hope of focusing public attention on their plight.

Nearly 20,000 grievances are filed daily to complaints offices across China in person, according to official figures released last November.

Many petitioners are middle-aged or elderly people with little or no income living in constant fear of being detained by officials from their hometown who run representative offices in larger cities seeking out those who complain about them.

Those who do pursue complaints against the government--often for forced evictions, loss of farmland, accidents, or death and mistreatment in custody--say they are repeatedly stonewalled, detained in "black jails"
or "legal study centers," beaten, and harassed by the authorities.

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

Court hearing of Mahasandisukha Monastery Lawsuit

Court hearing of Mahasandisukha Monastery Lawsuit

Hong Kong Lawyers in Mass Silent Protest Over China's White Paper

Lawyers gather in front of the court of final appeal during a march in defence of judicial independence in Hong Kong, June 27, 2014.
Nearly 2,000 members of Hong Kong's legal profession, wearing black, marched silently on Friday to the territory's highest court in protest over a recent white paper by China asserting Beijing's power and declaring that Hong Kong judges should be "patriotic."

The white paper, issued on June 10 amid growing political tension surrounding the democratic process in the upcoming 2017 chief executive race, categorizes judges in Hong Kong as administrators who need to be "patriotic," as well as asserting Beijing's "comprehensive jurisdiction" over the former British colony.

The paper has been roundly criticized by the influential Hong Kong Bar Association, while a retired judge and two leading law deans came out in support of Friday's marchers.

Some 1,800 lawyers, legal scholars, and law students wearing black gathered outside the High Court in Admiralty at around 5.00 p.m. and marched to the Court of Final Appeal.

A University of Hong Kong law student surnamed Chan, who took part in the march, said he was marching in solidarity with the territory's widely trusted judicial system.

"I am afraid that Hong Kong's judicial independence is coming under political pressure, and I fear it will waver," Chan said.

"That's why I have come out in support of it," he said.

A few dozen pro-Beijing protesters also gathered at the start of the march, shouting "we support the white paper!"

Judicial independence threatened

Hong Kong Civic Party Chairman Audrey Eu, herself a lawyer by profession, said Beijing's white paper had sparked widespread fears that the ruling Chinese Communist Party would start micromanaging Hong Kong, despite having promised the territory "a high degree of autonomy" ahead of its1997 handover from Britain.

"There were some areas of this white paper that weren't in line with the Basic Law or the principle of 'one country, two systems,'" Eu said, referring to Hong Kong's miniconstitution.

"There is a big conflict with Hong Kong's judicial independence," Eu said.

"Judges have always enjoyed judicial independence here in Hong Kong, and they are not a part of the executive," she said. "Judges must swear an oath to uphold the Basic Law, not any government."

She said the turnout of lawyers in public protest was the largest seen since the handover.

"This has been a huge response," Eu said.

Beijing-based rights lawyer Teng Biao also took part in the march.

"Judicial independence is so important for the rule of law, and it should be defended at all times and in all places," Teng said.

"Hong Kong people have always cared about the human rights situation in mainland China ... so I feel a personal duty to march alongside Hong Kong people at this crucial juncture, to defend the rule of law," he said.

Media, computer attacks

Tensions are running high in Hong Kong following a series of attacks in Chinese state media on an unofficial referendum on the democratic process and a massive cyberattack on the poll's website.

More than 740,000 people have cast ballots since the mostly online PopVote poll opened last Friday, while organizers of the Occupy Central civil disobedience movement have vowed to blockade Hong Kong's business district if universal suffrage and public nomination of candidates are denied to the city's voters.

The poll has been repeatedly slammed as "illegal" by China's state-controlled media, and Beijing's hard-line response may have boosted the numbers taking part, political commentators say.

Hong Kong Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen said the white paper "carries no intention to impose requirements other than those in the Basic Law on judges," local media reported.

However, Professor Johannes Chan, dean of law at the University of Hong Kong, said Beijing seems to have changed its previous approach.

"I do think that the white paper represents a change in approach towards Hong Kong and that the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary is threatened," Chan told the South China Morning Post before joining the march.

Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

Unesco to help Myanmar list Bagan

People are transported on cattle drawn cart as they pass in front of the ancient pagodas at Bagan, Myanmar. (AFP photo)
YANGON - Unesco would help Myanmar update its inventories of the ancient capital Bagan, an important initial step to safeguarding the site, the government said Friday.

"The experts from Unesco will train our staff on how we should do the process of inventory," Myanmar's Deputy Culture Minister Sandar Khin told dpa.

Doing a proper inventory "is the essential first step for Bagan to be listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site," she said.

The announcement comes days after the ancient cities of Pyu were designated as a World Heritage Site.

Myanmar nominated Bagan to the World Heritage Committee in 1996, but the site has not achieved Unesco world heritage status, thought largely to be because of poor restoration work undertaken by the military junta in the 1990s.

Bagan was the capital city of the first Myanmar kingdom, which contains more than 2,500 Buddhist monuments built from the 10th to the 14th centuries AD.

By dpa
Bangkok Post

UN criticises Burma’s drug efforts

Police and media look on as an estimated US$ 14 million dollars worth of seized drugs burn at an event in Rangoon's Hlawga township on June 26. (PHOTO: Alex Bookbinder)

For many years, Burma has celebrated the UN’s International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking with fiery abandon, marking the occasion with drug-burning ceremonies intended to show how serious the government is about tackling the trade. However the 2014 edition of the World Drug Report, issued annually by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), paints a mixed picture of Burma’s drug eradication efforts.

At an event marking the report’s launch in Rangoon on Thursday afternoon, Jeremy Douglas, UNODC’s representative for Southeast Asia, noted that Burmese opiates and stimulant production have both increased significantly in recent years.

While Burma lost the title of the world’s largest opium producer to Afghanistan in the early 1990s, the country still accounts for a substantial portion of global supply, the report says, a share that has been rising steadily for almost ten years. “It’s an increasing percentage, year on year, for Myanmar. In 2005, which was the low point, [Burma] was roughly five percent of global opium production,” he said. “It is now 18 percent of global opium production.”

Yet enforcement figures do not reflect this spike, Douglas claimed. “In this region, oddly, given that there’s 18 percent of the production of the world taking place, in the golden triangle [there are] relatively low seizures. There may be some explanation for that coming from the government,” he said.

Southeast Asia has witnessed a massive spike in supply and demand for synthetic drugs in recent years, most notably pill-form methamphetamine, or Yaba. “We have seen a seven-fold increase [in Yaba seizures] over the last few years. We are now projecting… the highest [seizure] levels ever recorded. 240-plus-million pills will be reported in the near future as seized in the greater Mekong sub region. The source of those… is the Shan State area.”

Because the raw materials needed to create these synthetic drugs do not originate in Burma, Douglas called for improved “precursor controls” that would limit the ability of criminal syndicates to engage in large-scale production in Burma’s lawless frontier areas. Most precursor chemicals – the ephedrine and pseudoephedrine for methamphetamienes and the ancetic anhyndride used to purify heroin – have historically originated in China, but these have been augmented by increasing shipments from India recently, Douglas claimed.

Two massive pyres – laden with heroin, pharmaceuticals, methamphetamines and other drugs – were set ablaze at a ceremony held in Rangoon’s northern Hlawga township early Thursday morning. Two other events were simultaneously held in Mandalay and Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State.

Commander Khin Maung Thein, of the police’s Anti-Narcotics Taskforce, said that 16 different types of drugs, with a combined street value of 14 million US dollars, were destroyed at the Rangoon event. “All these drugs were seized across Burma – in Rangoon, Pegu, Irrawaddy and Tenasserim divisions, and Mon, Arakan and Karen, and were tested by the Criminal Investigation Department,” he said. The combined value of the drugs destroyed at the three events totalled US$130 million, according to the authorities.

Additional reporting by Paing Soe

Women activists charged for protesting in Chin State

Women's rights protestors take to the streets of Matupi on Monday, 23 June 2014. (Photo courtesy of Chinland Guardian)
Four activists who organised a protest against sexual violence in the town of Matupi in Chin State have been charged for staging a rally without permission – Chapter Three of Burma’s controversial Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act.

Women’s rights activists Thang Zin and Khin Lwe Parh, and Chin Youth Organisation members Mong Han and Tate Manh, were summoned to the Matupi police station around noon on Wednesday after they had led some 200 local demonstrators through the streets the two previous days.

“The women were interrogated by police who informed them of the charges and instructed them to wait for the court summons,” said Mai Alli of the Chin Women’s Association. “The local police chief apparently told them not to be worried – as they might be let off with just a fine.”

The two Chin Youth activists, Khin Lwe Parh and Thang Zin, were released on bail at around 5pm on Wednesday.

Khin Lwe Parh later told DVB that she led the protest to raise awareness and call for an end to rampant abuses in the region, including domestic violence, and said she would face any charge for doing what she believes in – promoting female empowerment.

“I will go to prison and take whatever punishment they give me for doing what I can for women’s rights,” she said.

Thang Zin said she will continue to educate women so they know their rights, and to protect and defend them in cases of sexual and domestic violence.

“There is a tradition in Burma that women are not allowed to talk back to their husbands, and due to a lack of rule of law, they are reluctant to make an issue of the domestic violence they suffer, which encourages the perpetrators even more,” she said.

“We staged the protest to raise awareness, and encourage women not to be afraid to speak out.”

Another group of female activists who held a similar protest in nearby Rezua sub-township concurrently with the rally in Matupi have also been summoned by police.

The organisers of the two protests requested permission from local authorities and police prior to the events in accordance with the law, but their applications were rejected.


NLD to hold first youth congress in July

Young NLD supporters cheer as they watch increasing votes on a screen on the roof of the party headquarters in Rangoon during by-elections in April 2012. (PHOTO: Reuters)

The National League for Democracy (NLD) announced on Thursday that it will hold its first nationwide youth congress on 5- 6 July.

Maung Maung Oo, appointed chairperson of the Youth Congress Organising Commission, said more than 200 young NLD members from branches across Burma will attend the meeting at the Royal Rose Hall in Rangoon’s Bahan Township where party leader Aung San Suu Kyi is scheduled to deliver the opening speech.

On the agenda at the congress will be the formation of a Central Youth Leading Committee and a Central Youth Working Committee, and the appointment of its representatives.

The conference was originally due to be held in January, then April, but was postponed each time as the NLD concentrated its efforts on a nationwide campaign calling for public support for its bid to enact constitutional reform.

The NLD reportedly has about 100,000 youth members throughout Burma, aged between 16 and 35.

The party has long been criticised for its reliance on elder statesmen; while several octogenarians are among its central committee members, few persons under the age of 65 hold any authority in the party’s hierarchy.

In 2008, 109 youth members resigned from the party, claiming their voices were not being heard.


DVB talks to Kanthan Shankar, World Bank

Kanthan Shankar, the country manager for the World Bank in Burma, spoke to DVB Interview International recently about several World Bank and International Finance Corporation (IFC) projects currently underway in the country, and addresses concerns over their implementation.

The World Bank is financing a schools grant and stipends programme as part of its Decentralising Funding to Schools Project, worth a total of US$100 million. The money will go towards an existing government initiative by the Ministry of Education.

“It is mainly benefiting the poor, giving them scholarships and better school facilities,” Shankar said.

“We’ve seen similar programmes have worked in other countries so we are bringing that experience to bear. [The programme will] serve kids in primary education, in particular, with better facilities. And poorer kids will benefit. Over 100,000 kids will be benefitting and as a whole that’s over eight million schools and students.”

The World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) is putting US$80 million into this education stipend project while the government of Australia is adding $20 million.

Meanwhile the IFC has pledged to invest $80 million in Shangri-La Asia Ltd to expand operations in Burma. The loan will provide assistance for the expansion of the Traders Hotel in downtown Rangoon as well as for construction of the 240-suite luxury Shangri-La Residences overlooking Kandawgyi Lake.

Shankar said it is important to attract private sector investment to the country.

“It is extremely important [for a country] that is under transition, where 70 percent of its population live in rural areas, [and where] poverty rates are quite high. If they need to reduce their poverty – they cannot completely depend on the public sector, they cannot completely depend on the government, they have to attract private sector,” he said.

“They’ve been shut away for such a long time. Here is an opportunity that they will be able to create an environment for responsible private sector to come in.”

Another project the World Bank is financing is a Community-driven Development (CDD) project, which gets local communities involved in choosing development projects for their villages.

“This is our first activity in Myanmar [Burma]. It is an $80 million development grant from IDA. In each of the regions in Myanmar, the poorest township is selected and each of the villages and village tracts benefit from this CDD programme. So on average there is about $27,000 for each village, and the community decides what they would want in terms of infrastructure upgrading, water supply, sanitation, building access pathways,” he said.

Shankar said he recently visited the town of Kampalet in Chin State, one of the areas taking part in the CDD project.

“I went to visit about five or six villages and some of them you have to walk for about 40 minutes each way to reach them – they are extremely remote. But you can see the impact in terms of the process. For these communities, it’s the first time for them to be responsible for the choices, rather than someone deciding for them,” he said.

However, the World Bank has faced criticism over the CDD project. The US Campaign for Burma has concerns over a lack of meaningful consultations with the local communities and a failure to ensure those with ethnic languages or limited education can understand the projects being rolled out in their communities.

“Of course it’s not going to be perfect, we are just starting this work,” Shankar said. “We are learning. There is a grievance mechanism where communities can, if something isn’t going well, bring it up to the committee.

“I certainly don’t think this is going to be perfect as it starts, we are learning, and it’s the first time these projects are being implemented,” he emphasised.

Other concerns have been raised over IFC pledging $30 million to invest in the Yoma Equity Project, an initiative of Yoma Bank. IFC investment would support the Yoma Bank’s SME [Small-Medium Enterprises] financing programme to increase access to finance for SME’s in Burma. The project was categorised as FI(2) (Financial Intermediary), which means it could forego certain social and environmental impact assessments. Given that several FI investments in other countries have been accused of a lack of transparency, there are concerns over the FI categorisation of this project.

“Look, what I can say is that IFC is trying to attract private sector into the country. There is a huge need to create jobs in Myanmar. It has to be in sectors such as in manufacturing and micro-enterprises, so creating and helping in terms of funding some of these activities and helping the government in ensuring there is an attractive environment for private sector investments, both local and international, is important, and that is what IFC does,” he said.

Shankar went on to say that the World Bank does due diligence in every project they undertake.

“We do due diligence in every activity which we do. There are these assessments that we do. If we go into any type of intervention which we finance we will do due diligence. And after that is the only way we would go into the next step. And that is being done on everything that we do,” he said.


Midnight Freedom For Tibetan Nun Held For 'Political Reasons'

Tibetan nuns arrive at a religious site in Serthar county in China's Sichuan province, April 5, 2013.
Chinese authorities in Sichuan have released a Tibetan nun from prison on completion of her sentence, driving her immediately to her home at midnight in order to prevent public celebrations by family members and supporters, sources said.

Ani Chime, aged about 41, was freed on June 25 after serving three years in prison following her detention “allegedly for political reasons,” a Tibetan source in exile told RFA’s Tibetan Service on Thursday, citing sources in the region.

“The Chinese police brought her straight to her home around midnight that same day to prevent a crowd from gathering to welcome her,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Family members and other relatives were expecting her release and had made plans to receive her on June 28, but she arrived earlier than they planned,” he said.

Chime was taken into custody on June 26, 2011 in Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) county in Sichuan’s Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, where she was working in a clinic attached to the Lamdrak nunnery, the source said, adding,“She was detained along with her assistant, Ani Chiga, allegedly for political reasons.”

Held for a year at a detention center in Kardze prefecture’s Dartsedo (Kangding) county, Chime was later handed a three-year prison term and was transferred to a women’s prison in Sichuan where she served a further two years, he said.

The precise nature of the charge for which Chime was convicted remains unclear.

“Chime is a resident of Kardze county’s Khotsoe Arora village, and her father’s name is Dorje Tsering and her mother’s name is Ngawang Choedron,” the source said.

“She will be given a warm welcome at her village and also at the Lamdrak nunnery,” he said.

During the month in which Ani Chime was detained, Tibetan monks and nuns had taken to the streets in Kardze to protest Chinese rule, drawing beatings and detentions by police, according to reports by Tibetans living in exile and in the region.

Protesters had also called for the return of Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, said a Tibetan resident who witnessed the demonstrations, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Sporadic demonstrations challenging Chinese rule have continued in Tibetan-populated areas of China since widespread protests swept the region in 2008, with 131 Tibetans to date setting themselves ablaze to oppose Beijing’s rule and call for the Dalai Lama’s return.

Reported by Sonam Wangdu for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.

Vietnamese Court Rejects Appeal Against Blogger's Jail Sentence

Truong Duy Nhat stands trial at a local People's Court in Danang, March 4, 2014.
An appeals court in Vietnam on Thursday upheld a two-year sentence imposed on a popular blogger, at the same time blocking the rights campaigner and his attorney from openly discussing in court details of the writings that had led to his conviction, sources said.

Truong Duy Nhat, 50, was found guilty on March 4 of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state” at a half-day trial in central Vietnam’s Danang city and was sentenced under Article 258 of the penal code, which carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.

Thursday’s hearing in Danang to consider the appeal of his sentence ended quickly, Nhat’s lawyer, Tran Vu Hai, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.

“[The court] upheld the lower court’s sentence, which is two years’ imprisonment,” he said, adding, “The trial did not take much time. It began at 8:00 a.m. and ended at 15 minutes to 10:00.”

Attempts by Nhat and his lawyer to defend in court the content of 12 of his online writings were quickly suppressed, with judges refusing them permission to speak and ordering sound feeds cut to an adjoining room set aside for reporters, Hai said.

“[We wanted] to discuss those articles and explain why he wrote them and what their contents were, and ask how they had infringed on the interests of the state.”

“They did not let us say anything about this, and whenever we tried to say something they threatened us, saying that if we attempted to speak they would throw us out of the court,” Hai said.

“Some friends of Truong Duy Nhat’s were present and sat in another room for the press where there was a screen. But when we began to speak about [Nhat’s] 12 articles, the sound went off.”

National leaders criticized

Nhat, a former reporter at state-run newspapers, was arrested in May 2013, weeks after posting articles on his blog “Another Viewpoint” calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and Vietnamese Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong.

He had also conducted an online opinion poll ahead of a first-ever confidence vote on senior officials in the country’s parliament held at a session in June last year.

A friend of Nhat’s who was present at the appeal hearing said that at Nhat’s first trial, only Nhat’s wife and children could attend.

“This time, his wife and children, some relatives, and three friends—including the writer Thai Ba Loi, Tran Chi Trung, and myself from Hanoi—were present, but we could not sit in the courtroom and were only allowed to sit with the press,” writer Pham Xuan Nguyen told RFA.

“We followed the court proceedings on a screen, but the sound came on and off.”

“Whenever there was an argument, only pictures were shown,” he said.

Stopped by police

Another friend of Nhat’s said he was stopped by police on his way to the courthouse and detained for three hours for a document check.

“I could not make it to the trial,” Nguyen Van Tach told RFA, speaking from the police station in Danang city’s Hoa Hiep North Commune.

“When they stopped me and checked my papers, they saw that I had not brought a registration for my motorbike,” he said. “And though the law would have allowed them to write me a ticket at the scene, they told me they were ordered to bring me to the station.”

Speaking to RFA, Nhat’s lawyer, Tran Vu Hai, said that court authorities had tried to block him on Wednesday from making copies of lower court documents needed to prepare for Thursday’s hearing.

“But I fought, and they had to let me do it,” he said.

Writer Pham Xuan Nguyen meanwhile condemned the Danang court’s use of Article 258 of the penal code to convict Nhan, calling the article’s language and provisions “ambiguous.”

“It is easy to apply this article in order to charge people without evidence,” he said.

Paris-based press freedoms watchdog Reporters Without Borders lists Vietnam as an “Enemy of the Internet” and the third-largest prison in the world for netizens.

Vietnam is second only to China for the number of journalists jailed, according to the annual prison census of the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists, which counts 16 out of 18 Vietnamese reporters currently behind bars as bloggers.

Reported by An Nguyen for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.

Two Burmese arrested after dead body left in boot of Bangkok taxi

 File photo of a typical Bangkok taxi (Commons.wikimedia)

Two Burmese men were arrested on Thursday for the alleged murder of a friend whose body was then abandoned in a bin left in the boot of a taxi by a passenger early on Tuesday.

Police later identified the the dead man as a Burmese national, Tun Naibut, and located and went to his rented house in tambon Bang Nam Jued of Samut Sakhon’s Muang district. There they found blood stains and signs of fighting.

Police later arrested Chit San Muang at a house in Nonthaburi’s Bang Yai distirct and then another man, an accomplice identified only as Tajee who lived in the same house as the dead man. They also seized a steel bar and wire as evidence.

Pol Maj Gen Wittaya Prayongphun, deputy commissioner of provincial police region 7, said the two men confessed to killing Tun Naibut. They said they had been drinking alcohol together and got into an argument in which Tajee accused Naibut of stealing 17,000 baht (US$530). They hit Naibut with a steel bar and stabbed him with a piece of heavy gauge steel wire until he was dead.

They then called another friend, known only as Fujee, to ride a motorcycle to get a taxi. The two men helped stuff the body in a black bin and put it in the taxi’s boot. Fujee then went in the taxi to the Rama 2 area, where he paid the bill, got out and walked away, leaving the body behind early Tuesday morning.

Police said the two men would be charged with murder, and they would try to track down the taxi “passenger”.

Cab driver Uthai Phetseekaew reported to police about 1am on Tuesday that he had found a body stuffed in a bin left in his taxi’s boot after he picked up a man in the Bang Nam Jued area. The passenger directed him to the Rama 2 area, paid the meter fare and walked away.

He realised the man had forgotten his baggage so he returned to look for him, without success. The driver decided to check out what was left in the boot, and found a dead body in the bin. He went to the police.


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