Cablegate: Staffdel Weil/Lee Discusses Assistance and Public Diplomacy

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(U) This document is sensitive but unclassified. Please handle


1. (SBU) House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) professional staff
members Lynne Weil, Jessica Lee, and Dennis Halpin visited Burma
August 27-30 to assess USG assistance programs and public diplomacy
outreach efforts. In separate meetings with officials from the
Ministries of Social Welfare and Information, Weil and Lee stressed
the importance of access to U.S.-funded project sites, the free flow
of information in Burma, and the need for democratic reform. In
meetings with all three staff members, representatives from the
National League for Democracy (NLD) and ethnic political parties
cited ongoing government oppression and voiced their concerns about
the elections scheduled for 2010. Business contacts and foreign
diplomats reported that sanctions have had unintended harm and have
led to a "brain drain;" however, the business leaders noted that
targeted sanctions contained in the JADE Act had caused some
financial pain for regime cronies.

2. (SBU) UN officials and NGO contacts described the challenging
operating environment in Burma but stressed that they are able to
deliver aid to Cyclone Nargis-affected areas effectively. The
Staffdel viewed U.S. Nargis assistance first hand, visiting recovery
assistance projects in the Irrawaddy Delta and speaking with
recipients and aid workers. Staff from the American Center in
Rangoon described their efforts to empower and train community
groups nationwide. At a public diplomacy roundtable, contacts from
local organizations described their efforts to strengthen civil
society inside the country and thanked the USG for its support. End

Staffdel Members

3. (SBU) The HFAC Staffdel was comprised of Lynne Weil
(Communications Director, Rep. Berman, D-CA); Jessica Lee
(Professional Staff Member, Berman); and Dennis Halpin (Professional
Staff Member, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, R-FL). They visited Burma from
August 27-30, focusing primarily on U.S. assistance and public
diplomacy programs, as well as political and economic conditions in
the country.

Ministry of Social Welfare: Emergency Phase is Over

4. (SBU) Staffdel members Weil and Lee met with Aung Tun Khaing,
Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief,
and Resettlement, and other staff from the Ministry's Department of
Social Welfare (DSW). Aung Tun Khaing explained that his ministry
has primary responsibility for recovery and rehabilitation in the
Delta. He said the ministry currently maintains memorandums of
understanding (MOUs) for 48 NGOs with operations in the Delta and
coordinated the delivery of more than USD 4 million in in-kind and
cash contributions through the Tripartite Core Group (TCG). He
expressed a desire for a closer relationship with the United States.

5. (SBU) Noting the importance of access to aid project sites for
monitoring and assessment, Weil and Lee questioned GOB decisions to
abolish streamlined TCG visa approvals related to Nargis relief and
UN helicopter service to the Delta. Aung Tun Khaing explained that
both the helicopter and TCG facilitation of visas were necessary for
the emergency phase following the cyclone, arguing that the
situation had now returned to normal. Lee explained that the U.S.
Congress was considering increased assistace to the Burmese people,
and emphasized that suh increases required assurances of continued
acces for international NGO staff and U.S. officials i order to
carry out monitoring, evaluation, and oversight responsibilities.

Ministry of Information: Journalism Training and Censorship

6. (SBU) Staffdel members Weil and Lee met with Ye Htut, Deputy
Director General of the Department of Information and Public
Relations in the Ministry of Information (MOI), and Tint Swe,
Director of the Press Scrutiny and Registration Department. In
response to Weil's interventions on the importance of press freedom,
Ye Htut said he hopes to see an expansion of press freedom in Burma
in the coming years, including prior to the 2010 elections. Weil
noted that a free press is critical for a democracy and free and
fair elections. When asked, Ye Htut offered no details on the
upcoming election law or its release date. He described the senior
generals as suspicious of U.S intentions, saying they will not

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"unclench their fists" unless they know they are not threatened.
Small gestures, such as referring to the country as "Myanmar", will
make a big difference, he said. Lee added that accurate information
is critical when the U.S. Congress assesses policy matters related
to Burma, including humanitarian assistance.

7. (SBU) Ye Htut thanked the Embassy for its active journalism
training program for privately-owned publications. However, he
urged the USG to include reporters from state-run media and
officials from MOI in trainings and exchange programs, saying, "If
you want to change us you have to train us." CDA, a.i. explained
that the Embassy is prohibited from providing direct assistance to
the Burmese government. Weil added that the U.S. Congress is
unlikely to relax such restrictions unless Burma introduces real
political reforms. Ye Htut also thanked the Embassy for providing
videotapes of two English teaching VOA-TV programs to air on
state-run television. This will be the first time since the 1980s
that American programs have appeared on Burmese television.

NLD: "Promote Democracy and Human Rights in Burma"

8. (SBU) In an hour-long meeting with all three staff members, NLD
Central Executive Committee members (aka the Uncles) expressed their
hope for a democratic Burma, but noted concerns about continued GOB
human rights violations and the plight of political prisoners. The
NLD leaders said they are not worried about the future of the party,
noting a resurgence of interest in the party among youth. NLD
leaders discussed the plan of Aung San Suu Kyi (ASSK) to appeal her
trial verdict, and told the Staffdel about recited examples of
regime human rights violations. The staff members asked the Uncles
to inform ASSK of Congress's intent to present her with the
Congressional Gold Medal in the fall. When the staffers asked what
message the NLD wanted them to take back to Washington, the NLD
leaders said, "Use your liberty to promote democracy and human
rights in Burma."

Ethnic Groups Anxious for Change

9. (SBU) In their meeting with the Staffdel, representatives of
several ethnic minority groups, expressed concern about recent
violence in the Kokang region. China probably could act as an
effective mediator in the short-term, they posited, but not in the
long-term because of the fundamental dispute between ethnic groups
and the government: the SPDC won't amend the constitution to
explicitly outline ethnic rights. The ethnic leaders observed that
recent SPDC violence against ethnic groups and monks have caused the
junta to "lose face" in the international community. They believe
the regime will look for ways to create space to cooperate with
various ethnic groups, but they remain doubtful the 2010 elections
will provide that space. They urged Staffdel members not to trust
the outcome of the elections, commenting that the result will not
represent a true democracy. One of the interlocutors asked that
Congress support those struggling inside the country and not just
exile groups, noting that exile efforts have not resulted in any
appreciable change in Burma.

NGOs: We Can Provide Effective Aid

10. (SBU) At a dinner hosted by CDA, the Staffdel met with
representatives of four international NGOs operating in Burma: The
Burnet Institute, CARE, International Rescue Committee (IRC), and
Marie Stopes International (MSI). Participants focused on the
operational challenges and opportunities in Burma, as well as the
persistent humanitarian need, both in the cyclone-affected Delta and
the rest of the country. The NGO representatives said their
organizations have been able to provide assistance effectively
despite the difficult operating environment, and offered examples of
how they ensure the integrity of their provision of services and
commodities to avoid misappropriation by authorities. All expressed
some concern, however, about the possibility of tighter GOB
restrictions on their activities in the run up to the 2010

Meeting UN Agencies

11. (SBU) Staffdel members met with country representatives from
the World Food Programme (WFP), the United Nations Development
Program (UNDP), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
(UNHCR), and the International Labor Organization (ILO). The
representatives briefed the Staffdel on their ongoing programs in
Burma, including the increase in assistance efforts in the wake of
Cyclone Nargis. They highlighted the challenging operating

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environment they too face in Burma, with delayed visa issuances by
the GOB leading their list of bureaucratic impediments. Like the
NGO reps, however, the UN officials explained how they are able to
pursue their objectives. The Staffdel emphasized that the U.S.
public and their elected representatives would continue to consider
reasonable access to assistance sites, necessary for proper
monitoring, as a requirement for USG assistance to Burma.

Business Contacts Discuss Sanctions

12. (SBU) In a meeting with Staffdel member Halpin, two leading
Burmese economists and a businessman said that while earlier general
sanctions adversely affected "regular" people, the more targeted
JADE Act has caused some financial pain for regime cronies.
However, Chinese investment and trade undermine the effectiveness of
U.S. sanctions overall. Sanctions push Burma into China's "camp" by
making partnerships with China the only viable option for the
regime, said one participant. Two industries where U.S. sanctions
have caused collateral damage are garments and seafood products,
according to the economic experts. Sanctions are circumvented by
repackaging Burmese seafood in Bangladesh for re-export to the U.S.
and sending garments to other Asian countries or even Mexico for
re-export to the U.S. The contacts also said that young and
motivated Burmese are going abroad as refugees, migrant workers, and
students to avoid the economic wreck wrought by the junta.

Diplomats Discuss Sanctions and ASEAN

13. (SBU) Staffdel member Halpin also met with Rangoon-based
diplomats from the UK, Singapore, and Australia to discuss sanctions
and Burma's future in ASEAN. Some of the participants said that
sanction have damaged the export-oriented middle class in Burma and
encouraged an illegal underground economy. Participants urged
Staffdel members to look for areas of mutual interest in which to
cooperate with the regime (e.g., avian influenza, counter-narcotics,
and other humanitarian issues), noting that other undemocratic
countries in the region have progressed economically with this type
of cooperation. In response to Halpin's comments concerning the
priority Congress places on Burma, the Singapore diplomat said,
"Burma is a sideshow." She argued that ASEAN member-countries have
far greater interests elsewhere in the region, highlighting
Thailand's political situation, Vietnam's economic situation,
continued ASEAN integration, and Muslim extremist groups in
Indonesia. Participants commented to Staffdel that the 2010
elections could be an event that changes the political landscape.

Delta Visit

14. (SBU) The Staffdel, accompanied by CDA and other Embassy
officers, traveled by car and boat to USG-funded project sites in
the Irrawaddy Delta. The delegation visited three villages in
Kungyangon Township, located approximately 50 miles south of
Rangoon. Escorted by Debbie Aung Din Taylor of U.S.-funded
International Development Enterprises (IDE), the staff members
participated in a community meeting in a cyclone-affected village
with a large landless population, toured family homes rehabilitated
through small shelter grants for cane walls and thatch roofing
materials, and observed local small-hold (1 acre) farmers using
IDE-developed irrigation systems. Beneficiaries universally
expressed gratitude for U.S. assistance and asked that it continue.
For their part, the staff members ensured the Burmese that the
Congress and people of the United States remained concerned for
their welfare.

The American Center

15. (SBU) The Staffdel visited the American Center (AC) in Rangoon
and met with staff, students, teachers, and public diplomacy (PD)
contacts. The staffers toured the AC, which has 18,000 current
members, observing the library, internet labs, and classrooms. PD
staff briefed on the range of courses taught to approximately 1,000
students each year, and described plans to move the AC from its
current leased location to the USG-owned former Marine Security
Guard Quarters near the Embassy. PD staff also briefed the staff
members on the Jefferson Center reading room in Mandalay, which is
housed in a former U.S. Consulate building and opened to the public
in 2008; it has 2,000 members.

16. (SBU) The Staffdel met with students from the AC's Community
Empowerment Training (CET) program, which provides intensive courses
on project development, communication, grant writing, and other
important skills for community organizers. The Staffdel also met

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two World Learning staff, who run programs at the AC on teacher
training, "training of trainers," and online distance learning.
Both the CET and World Learning programs have expanded their reach
during the past year to all parts of the country with the aim of
creating a network of local, self-sustaining trainers. The Staffdel
also attended a roundtable with PD contacts from local
organizations, including the Myanmar Institute of Theology, the
Myanmar-U.S. Friendship Exchange Association, and the Access
Microscholarship program. The contacts, many of them beneficiaries
of USG exchange programs, described the difficulties of working in
Burma and expressed thanks to the USG for providing assistance and
support inside Burma.

17. (U) Lynne Weil has cleared this cable.


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