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CTU calls for Support for Burma Democracy Movement

18 April 2005

CTU calls for Support for Burma Democracy Movement

The Council of Trade Unions president Ross Wilson has called for Government and public support for international sanctions against Burma’s military dictatorship, following a meeting with Burmese democratic leaders in Wellington today.

Two members of the visiting delegation were elected MPs in 1991 as part of the Government of the Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. The delegation is led by the President of the National Council of the Union of Burma, U Hla Oo.
“Burma is the forgotten country and the atrocities committed there daily by the military dictatorship are often ignored internationally,” Ross Wilson said.

The exiled Burmese democratic leaders will make a direct plea to New Zealand this week to support international sanctions against the dictatorship.

They will ask New Zealand to stop exports to Burma worth $5.9 million in the year to last June – mainly milk powder ($4.5 million).

They also want New Zealand to support mounting international pressure to stop Myanmar (Burma) taking the chair of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) next year, unless it restores democracy first.

Army generals have ruled the country of 50 million people since 1962 and crushed a student-led popular uprising in 1988, killing hundreds of peaceful protesters.

The regime allowed elections in 1990, but declared that Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, which won 60 per cent of the vote, was “not ready to rule”.

Suu Kyi has spent most of the years since 1990 under house arrest. Most of the elected MPs were jailed, killed or fled the country.

Two exiled MPs, U Daniel Aung and U Hla Oo, who is also president of the Federation of Trade Unions of Burma, have come to New Zealand with U Maung Maung the General Secretary of the FTUB.

U Maung Maung and other exiled leaders flew to Manila earlier this month seeking support from a conference of the Inter-Parliamentary Union to block Burma’s chairmanship of Asean.

Foreign Minister Phil Goff told Associated Press last month that the chairmanship issue provided a chance to put extra pressure on the Burmese junta to restore democracy.

“There is an opportunity for both members and dialogue partners to push for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi with Burma scheduled to host the Asean conference next year,” he said.

The United States and the European Union have both threatened not to attend any Asean meetings hosted by Burma.

The full Burmese delegation visiting NZ:

*U Maung Maung, born 2/10/52, General Secretary of the NCUB and FTUB. *U Hla Oo, born 6/4/51, President of the FTUB and elected as MP for Kyaukthankhar Constituency for the National League for Democracy (NLD), now living in exile in Thailand. *U Daniel Aung, born 5/12/42, Chair of the Lahu National Development Party (Liberated Areas) and elected as MP for the Mai Phin Constituency in Shan State, now living in exile in Australia.

*Dr Myint Cho, born 25/12/58, a medical doctor, co-founder of the All-Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF), now living in exile in Australia. The delegation is accompanied to Wellington by: *Mr Thet Naing Htun (known as Ko Pyone), vice-president of the United Democratic Burmese Community of NZ – UDBC (NZ), *Mr Aung Pe Khin, general secretary of the UDBC (NZ), http://www.udbc.org.nz


BURMA: FACTS FOR NEW ZEALANDERS

Names: Burma’s military junta changed the country’s name from ‘Burma’ to ‘Myanmar’, and the name of the capital city from ‘Rangoon’ to ‘Yangon’, in 1989. The democracy movement has never accepted these changes and continues to refer to ‘Burma’ and ‘Rangoon’.

BASIC FACTS

NZ Burma

Population (million, 2002) 4 49

GDP per capita (US$, 2002) 21,740 1,027

Adult literacy (%, 2002) 99 85

Doctors per 100,000 people, 1990-2003 219 30

Phone lines + cellphones per 1000 people, 2002 1070 8

Regular military personnel per million people, 2003-04 2170 9959

Sources: United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report, 2004; NZ Defence Force Annual Report, 2004; International Institute for Strategic Studies, Military Balance, 2003-04.

RECENT HISTORY

1948: Burma achieves independence from Britain under PM U Nu.

1962: Military coup led by General Ne Win jails U Nu & takes power; state takes over banks & industry.

1974: Former UN secretary-general U Thant dies. Students & monks seize his body to give him a proper burial; hundreds are killed.

1987: Student protests in Rangoon after Ne Win demonetises 25, 35 & 75 Kyat banknotes, making 75% of the money in circulation worthless.

1988: Student unrest & anti-government riots force Ne Win’s resignation, but hundreds die when the army fires on demonstrators in Rangoon, sparking mass demonstrations for democracy in cities & villages throughout the country. Army forms State Law & Order Restoration Council (SLORC) to restore order. Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of pre-independence leader Aung San, returns to Burma from Britain to lead newly-formed National League for Democracy (NLD). Dissident students form All-Burma Students’ Democratic Front and vow to fight for democracy.

1990: SLORC allows the first multi-party elections since 1960, in which the NLD wins 60% of the vote. However, Aung San Suu Kyi is banned from taking part in the election and remains under house arrest. SLORC says NLD “not ready to rule” and arrests its other leaders. Eight NLD MPs flee to the Thai border and set up National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB) under Aung San Suu Kyi’s cousin, Sein Win.

1991: Aung San Suu Kyi, still under house arrest, receives Nobel Peace Prize.

1995: Aung San Suu Kyi released from house arrest to take part in “national convention”, but refuses to participate.

1997: SLORC Changes its name to “State Peace & Development Council” (SPDC). US bans new investment in Burma.

2000: Aung San Suu Kyi blocked from travelling outside Rangoon and placed under house arrest again.

2002: Aung San Suu Kyi freed.

2003: Aung San Suu Kyi arrested in violent fracas while touring northern Burma. US bans imports from Burma, freezes the junta’s assets at US financial institutions & denies US visas to the junta’s officials. Japan stops aid to Burma.

2004: PM General Khin Nyunt convenes “national convention” to debate new constitution, shunned by NLD & most ethnic groups because their leaders remain in detention. SPDC sacks Khin Nyunt and replaces him with more hardline General Soe Win.

2005: US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice names Myanmar, Zimbabwe, Cuba & Belarus as “outposts of tyranny” where America “stands with oppressed people”.

POLITICAL CONDITIONS

“Freedom of speech, press, religion, assembly, and association remain greatly restricted. Burmese citizens are not free to criticize their government…. Security forces regularly monitor the movements and communications of residents, search homes without warrants, and relocate persons forcibly without just compensation or legal recourse….

“Patterns of abuses are most egregious in ethnic minority areas. These abuses include censorship, persecution, torture, disappearances, extrajudicial executions, the curtailing of religious freedom and demolition of places of worship, forced relocations, rapes, and forced labor…. The Burmese Armed Forces make use of forced conscription for portering.” – US State Department, April 2004, http://www.state.gov/p/eap/rls/rpt/31335.htm

All aspects of life in Burma are dominated by the military. Military officers and their families, or the Burmese Army itself, control the major businesses and trade. In many areas, farmers are required to sell a set quota of rice per hectare to the government at a fixed price well below the market price. Farmers who fail to meet their quota are sent to labour camps or have their crops or land confiscated.

Local people are often required to work on, and supply materials for, new roads, railways and other infrastructure in their areas. In many areas, permits are required to leave a village, with fees payable to the local military. No trade unions are permitted in workplaces. Strikes are prohibited.

In the many areas where the junta faces opposition from ethnic resistance movements, it has razed whole villages and forced people to move to areas that it can control more effectively. Landmines are often laid in the border areas where people used to live. Refugees International estimates that about 1 million people in Burma’s eastern states have had to leave their homes as a result of these policies since 1996.

“The fact that 42% of IDPs [internally displaced persons] in eastern Burma choose to live on the run and in hiding rather than move to government-run relocation sites adds credence to the fact that many relocation sites resemble concentration camps,” it says. About 150,000 Burmese people are in refugee camps in neighbouring countries, mainly Thailand.

All publications are censored. Radio and television are government-owned. According to the US State Department, the only internet server in Burma is owned by the Defence Ministry and bars internet access to most of the population. Teachers and university academics are instructed not to discuss politics. Outdoor meetings of more than five people are banned unless they have prior government approval.

THE DEMOCRACY MOVEMENT

The National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB) was formed by exiled MPs who were not allowed to take their seats in Parliament after the 1990 election. It aims to restore a federal multi-party democracy. http://www.ncgub.net/


The National Council of the Union of Burma (NCUB) was set up in 1992 to bring together exiled members of the National League for Democracy (NLD), exiled MPs, the pre-existing Democratic Alliance of Burma (DAB), and the National Democratic Front (NDF) representing on-Burman ethnic groups. It aims to bring about a federal democracy that guarantees equality to all ethnic groups. http://www.ncub.org/


The Federation of Trade Unions - Burma (FTUB) was formed in 1991 by exiled workers and students. It aims to uphold democracy and human rights, establish free trade unions and achieve equal distribution of wealth by emphasising equal opportunity. http://www.tradeunions-burma.org/


HOW THE WORLD CAN HELP

All these groups and Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy have called since 1994 for an international boycott of Burma in the belief that this will help to pressure the junta into accepting democracy, as it did in South Africa.

The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) produced a comprehensive report on Burma in January 2005 at:

http://www.icftu.org/displaydocument.asp?Index=991221173&Language=EN

It concluded that:

* Burma is the only country for which the international union movement supports bans on trade and investment.

* This is because Burma is unique in being run for and by a military elite, so that trade and investment directly feed the wealth and power of the armed forces rather than the ordinary people.

* Bans on trade and investment are effective. Burma’s exports and imports have both dropped since the sanctions started to bite in 2001, and foreign investment has fallen.. Multinational companies such as Pepsi Cola, Levi Strauss, Adidas, Carlsberg and Premier Oil have pulled out in response to international pressure.


The US currently bans imports from and investment in Burma, has frozen Burmese bank accounts in the US, stopped aid and refuses visas to people connected with the junta. It has also downgraded its representation in Burma from ambassador to charge d’affaires. The European Union has also banned aid and arms sales to Burma, has withdrawn preferential entry for Burmese goods in the EU, refuses visas to the junta and has frozen the funds of entities connected with the junta.


New Zealand Foreign Minister Phil Goff told Green MP Keith Locke in Parliament in 2003: "Normally, before New Zealand institutes sanctions it must have a UN mandate for doing so. That does not, however, stop us from informally implementing smart sanctions against the regime, and I can assure the member, given that visas are required for people to come here, no member of that military regime will be given a visa to come to New Zealand. In terms of the US sanctions, they are more wide ranging in the sanctions against trade than New Zealand would normally impose against other countries."

The Burmese democracy movement urges New Zealand to join other democratic nations in imposing stronger pressure, including full trade and investment sanctions, to encourage the Burmese junta to restore democracy.

NEW ZEALAND-BURMA RELATIONSHIPS

Diplomacy: New Zealand and Burma still have full diplomatic relations. The NZ Ambassador to Thailand, Peter Rider, is also accredited to Burma, and the Burmese Ambassador in Canberra, U Soe Win, is accredited to NZ.

Burma was admitted to the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1997. According to ASEAN’s policy of rotation, Burma is due to host the next ASEAN summit next year (2006), and to chair ASEAN that year. NZ and Australia are seeking a Free Trade Agreement with ASEAN. Unlike John Howard, Helen Clark signed a “Treaty of Amity and Cooperation” with ASEAN nations at the ASEAN summit in Laos in November 2004, committing NZ and other ASEAN nations to “non-interference in the internal affairs of one another”. However, she pointedly stated that signing the treaty would not stop NZ speaking out on “human rights abuses”. NZ representatives at the United Nations committee on human rights regularly express concern about human rights in Burma.


Trade: Burma is New Zealand’s 76th biggest market, just ahead of Israel. NZ exports to Burma grew from just $423,000 in 1995 to $17 million in 2001, but dropped back to $5.9 million in the year to June 2004, mainly milk powder ($4.5 million). Imports from Burma grew more slowly from $496,000 to $2.8 million in 2001, and dropped back to $535,000, mainly forest products ($439,000), in 2004.

Education: Only 16 students from Burma (other than NZ residents) were studying in NZ in 2004: 12 in tertiary institutions and 4 in high schools.

Aid: MFAT says New Zealand does not give any foreign aid to Burma.

Tourism: Burma does not show up in statistics of visitors to or from NZ.

Migrants & refugees: There were 702 people born in Burma usually resident in NZ at the 2001 census, up from 513 in 1996.

Refugees from Burma were first accepted under the annual United Nations quota in 2000. During 2000-2002, just over 300 refugees from Burma were accepted – about 130 Karen people, who were settled mainly in the Northcote-Birkenhead-Beach Haven area of North Shore City, and about 180 people from the main Burman ethnic group and others who were settled mainly in Glen Innes, Auckland. Three or four families were settled in Nelson.


NEW ZEALAND ORGANISATIONS SUPPORTING DEMOCRACY IN BURMA

United Democratic Burmese Community (NZ)

President: Aung Htay Nyan, 1/230 Rangatira Rd, Beach Haven, North Shore City, , nyan@xtra.co.nz

General Secretary: Aung Pe Khin, 39 Taniwha St, Glen Innes, Auckland, , rangerco@xtra.co.nz

http://www.udbcnz.org.nz/

NZ Burma Support Group

Convenor: Fiona Thompson, 14 Waitati Place, Avondale, Auckland, nzburma@xtra.co.nz

BURMESE CAUCUSES IN OTHER PARLIAMENTS

Australia: Senator Marise Payne (Lib), senator.payne@aph.gov.au; Laurie Ferguson MHR (Lab), laurie.ferguson.mp@aph.gov.au; Senator Aden Ridgeway (Dem), senator.ridgeway@aph.gov.au; Senator Kerry Nettle (Green), senator.nettle@aph.gov.au. See: http://www.aidwatch.org.au/assets/aw00607/final%20briefing.pdf

Indonesia: Ms Nursyahbani Katjasungkana,

Malaysia & Asean Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus: Datuk Zaid Ibrahim,

ENDS

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