Saturday, September 29, 2007

A Burmese Prayer

Before I go to bed tonight, I will pray hard to Lord Buddha that I will wake up as a Japanese in the morning. All my life, I have been a Burmese and I have always thought that all the human lives have equal values in this world after reading “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. It was a rude awakening for me and I only realized it in the last few days.

Matter of fact, I just learned that a Japanese life is worth more than thousands of Burmese lives. It is evident from the reaction of the Japanese government after a Japanese journalist was killed in Rangoon. The Japanese government has long been aware of the fact that Burmese people go through these abuses at junta’s hand everyday. Summary executions, forced labor, forced relocation, forced conscription of child soldiers and many other atrocities. But Japanese government has been indifferent in their policy of engaging with the military junta and supporting them.

Suddenly, even the Deputy Foreign Minister is going to Burma for an investigation for the death of the Japanese journalist. Please don’t misunderstand me, myself along with all the Burmese appreciate the efforts of Nagai San to expose the living hell that the Burmese live day in day out, to the outside world. Our condolences go to his family. It is sad that an innocent Japanese life had to be lost because the government of Japan had ignored all the facts for decades knowingly.

I will also pray for all the other Burmese to wake up as Japanese tomorrow. Lord Buddha please have mercy on all of us Burmese and let us wake up as Japanese tomorrow.

Zaw Tun
Foreign Affairs Committee Member

Diggers Kick Taliban Ass in Duffy

Its good to see the Taliban getting exactly what they deserve.


In their heaviest fighting to date, Australian soldiers with the Reconstruction Task Force (RTF) in Afghanistan have successfully repelled a prolonged attack by approximately 50 Taliban extremists.

RTF Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Harry Jarvie, praised the skill and determination of his soldiers.

“Over the last few months Australian soldiers have been regularly tested by Taliban extremists. In every case they have performed magnificently.”

The failed attack was one of a number of decisive defeats suffered by the Taliban in Oruzgan Province and the neighbouring Helmand Province during the past week. The attack came as the RTF was conducting a reconnaissance mission for the construction of Afghan National Police outposts about eight kilometres north of Tarin Kowt.

Taliban extremists fired automatic weapons and Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs) at the Australian patrol from the cover of an orchard. The patrol immediately returned fire and then engaged in an intense confrontation with the Taliban during the next four hours.

Infantry Platoon Commander Lieutenant Glenn Neilson said the Taliban had established strong firing positions and were reinforced with more fighters as the attack progressed.

“We were engaged with some very accurate fire from a range of about 300m and there were a lot of bullets coming our way. Making use of all the weapons at our disposal, including the Australian Light Armoured Vehicle (ASLAV) and Bushmaster Infantry Mobility Vehicle (IMV), we held our ground.”

The soldiers were also able to employ Dutch F16 fighter aircraft and Apache helicopters. Afghan National Army troops that were trained by Australian Forces in Oruzgan participated in the patrol and performed admirably.

“Together we neutralised the positions that were causing us trouble,” Lieutenant Neilson said.

Another Australian platoon supported the movement of RTF troops by providing essential covering fire as soldiers moved across hazardous open ground.

The Taliban are known to have suffered heavy casualties during the incident, but the ADF will not discuss specific details.

There were no civilian casualties resulting from this incident. No Australian soldiers were wounded, nor was there any damage to Australian vehicles.

Friday, September 28, 2007

More Deaths Than Reported

Why would anyone take anything the Junta says at face value? Considering the brutality of the Regime and that killing has been their main means of persuasion since they took power their response to the protests comes with little suprise to those paying who've been attention to the region.

Myanmar Deaths More Than Junta Revealed, Envoy Says (Update3)

Sept. 28 (Bloomberg) -- The death toll from anti-government protests in Myanmar is ``significantly'' higher than the military junta revealed, an Australian envoy said, as the U.S. and Southeast Asian nations demanded an end to the violence.

``Several multiples of the 10 acknowledged by the authorities'' have been killed, Ambassador Bob Davis said in an interview with Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio today from the former capital, Yangon. ``We're appalled at the violence by the military and thugs against peaceful demonstrators.''

President George W. Bush yesterday called on the international community to stand up for the pro-democracy demonstrators. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations expressed ``revulsion'' at the violent crackdown and demanded Myanmar, which is a member of the bloc, resolve the crisis peacefully.

Security forces fired warning shots over a crowd of some 10,000 protesters after launching baton charges in the center of Yangon today in an attempt to make demonstrators disperse, Agence France-Presse reported. Four monks were arrested in a raid by security forces on a monastery outside the city, AFP said.

International condemnation of the regime in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has grown since soldiers were deployed on the streets of Yangon, two days ago to end the biggest anti- government protests in almost 20 years. The Treasury Department in Washington froze financial assets in the U.S. of 14 junta leaders and the European Union is considering tightening sanctions on the regime.

Talks With Junta

UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari met with Foreign Ministry officials in Singapore, which currently chairs Asean, to discuss the crisis on his way to Myanmar, where he will hold talks with junta leaders, AFP reported today.

Asean, which admitted Myanmar as a member in 1997 against the wishes of the U.S. and Europe, has been criticized by Western nations for not doing enough to induce democratic change there.

The bloc's ``constructive engagement'' to encourage democracy in Myanmar has failed, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said today, the state-owned Bernama news agency reported. Progress on democratic change has been slow and, at times, stagnant, he added. Malaysia is an Asean member.

Soldiers patrolled Yangon today and many roads were sealed with barbed wire, AFP said. Streets were deserted and most stores and businesses closed, it added.

Access to the Internet was partially shut down, AFP said, adding that a state telecom official blamed the problem on a damaged underwater cable.

Bodies Removed

The Australian Embassy couldn't independently confirm how many people were shot dead by soldiers. It has witness reports of significantly more bodies than officially acknowledged ``being removed from the scene of the demonstrations,'' Davis said in the interview with ABC radio.

At least 30 people were killed by security forces two days ago, Lim Kit Siang, opposition leader in Malaysia's Parliament, said in an e-mailed statement today, citing an unidentified official in Myanmar's National League for Democracy.

The NLD won parliamentary elections in 1990, a result rejected by the junta, and its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi is among more than 1,000 political prisoners in the country.

The junta must release Suu Kyi and act with ``the utmost restraint,'' Philippine President Gloria Arroyo, whose country is also an Asean member, said in a statement issued in Manila today.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said the government is investigating the death of Japanese journalist Kenji Nagai, 50, who was shot dead by soldiers in Yangon yesterday. The government may impose sanctions on Myanmar, he added.

Show of Defiance

Buddhist monks have led more than a week of protests against the regime in the biggest show of defiance since a pro-democracy uprising by students in 1988.

That revolt was crushed when the army killed 1,000 protesters on Aug. 8, 1988, and an estimated 3,000 others in the weeks afterward, according to the U.S. State Department.

Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it summoned Myanmar's top diplomat in Canberra, Aung Soe Win, to inform him the government is imposing ``targeted financial sanctions' on the military regime.

Analysts questioned whether sanctions would curb the junta's actions and said the crackdown may get worse.

``A military government in any country will do anything to stay in power and Myanmar is no exception,'' Hiro Katsumata, Southeast Asian affairs researcher at Singapore's Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, said by telephone yesterday. ``Unless there is substantial international pressure on Myanmar, the military government will not do anything.''

U.S. and EU sanctions will only be effective if China, India and Asean neighbors follow suit, Katsumata added.

Junta Cuts Internet

It took them long enough. Still most of the Burmese blogs seem to be up and are being updated so there is definately something the Junta haven't figured out about this new fangled world wide web thing.

Internet Cut by Myanmar's Junta

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar's government appeared to have cut public Internet access and troops occupied key Buddhist monasteries on Friday, witnesses and diplomats said, in an effort to end demonstrations against the ruling junta.

The moves raised concerns that the military government may be preparing to intensify a crackdown on civilians that has killed at least 10 people in the past two days. The Internet in particular has played a crucial role in getting news and images of the pro-democracy protests to the outside world.

Police also sealed off a Yangon neighborhood after hundreds of protesters defied the government's orders and the violence of previous days to take to the streets. They were quickly dispersed without bloodshed. Elsewhere, witnesses said the streets were mainly quiet.

Southeast Asian envoys were told by Myanmar authorities that a no-go zone had been declared around five key Buddhist monasteries, one diplomat said, raising fears of a repeat of a democratic uprising in 1988, when troops gunned down thousands of peaceful demonstrators and imprisoned the survivors.

Gates were locked and key intersections near monasteries in Yangon and Mandalay were sealed off with barbed wire. There was no sign of monks.

"We were told security forces had the monks under control" and will now turn their attention to civilian protesters, the Asian diplomat said on condition of anonymity, citing protocol. Getting the monks out of the way raised concerns that the government would now feel emboldened to take tougher measures against remaining protesters, the diplomat said.

Myanmar's neighbor's showed their disdain at the violent turn the situation has taken. Demonstrations against Myanmar's junta were seen across Asia in Malaysia, Thailand, Japan and elsewhere. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations expressed "revulsion" and told the junta "to exercise utmost restraint and seek a political solution," with pro-democracy demonstrations held or planned in several cities across the region.

At least 10 people have been killed in two days of violence in the country's largest cities, including a Japanese cameraman who was shot when soldiers with automatic rifles fired into crowds demanding an end to military rule. Exile groups say the death toll could be much higher.

Daily demonstrations by tens of thousands have grown into the stiffest challenge to the ruling military junta in two decades, a crisis that began Aug. 19 with rallies against a fuel price hike, then escalated dramatically when monks began joining the protests.

Hundreds of people have been arrested, carted away in trucks at night or pummeled with batons, witnesses and diplomats said, with the junta ignoring international appeals for restraint.

The United States imposed new sanctions on a dozen senior Myanmar officials, including the junta's two top generals, and again urged China as Myanmar's main economic and political ally to use its influence to prevent further bloodshed.

But by Myanmar standards, the crackdown has so far been muted, in part because the regime knows that killing monks, who are highly revered in the deeply Buddhist nation, could trigger a maelstrom of fury.

Thursday was the most violent day in more than a month of protests — which at their height have brought an estimated 70,000 demonstrators to the streets. Bloody sandals lay scattered on some streets as protesters fled shouting "Give us freedom, give us freedom!"

Truckloads of troops in riot gear also raided Buddhist monasteries on the outskirts of Yangon, beating and arresting dozens of monks, witnesses and Western diplomats said.

"I really hate the government. They arrest the monks while they are sleeping," said a 30-year-old service worker who witnessed some of the confrontations from his workplace. "These monks haven't done anything except meditating and praying and helping people."

Images of bloodied protesters and fleeing crowds have riveted world attention on the escalating crisis, prompting many governments to urge the junta in Myanmar, also known as Burma, to end the violence.

The United Nations' special envoy to Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, was heading to the country to promote a political solution and could arrive as early as Saturday, one Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

Though some analysts said negotiations were unlikely, the diplomat said the decision to let Gambari in "means they may see a role for him and the United Nation in mediating dialogue with the opposition and its leaders."

The protesters won support from countrymen abroad as more than 2,000 Myanmar immigrants rallied peacefully in Malaysia, chanting slogans of support for Buddhist monks and other pro-democracy demonstrators. Riot police backed by trucks mounted with water cannons stood watch in Kuala Lumpur's diplomatic enclave as the demonstrators shouted "We want democracy!" and held banners that read "Stop killing monks and people."

Smaller rallies took place in Thailand, Indonesia, Japan and the Philippines.

China, Myanmar's largest trading partner, for months quietly counseled the regime to speed up its long-stalled political reforms. Some analysts say Beijing would hate to be viewed as party to a bloodbath as it prepares to court the world at the 2008 Olympic Games.

"China hopes that all parties in Myanmar exercise restraint and properly handle the current issue so as to ensure the situation there does not escalate and get complicated," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in Beijing Thursday.

But every other time the regime has been challenged, it has responded with force.

"Judging from the nature and habit of the Myanmar military, they will not allow the monks or activists to topple them," said Chaiyachoke Julsiriwong, a Myanmar scholar at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

New Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said the death of the journalist Nagai was "extremely unfortunate."

"We hope the Myanmar government will give us a full explanation," Fukuda said.

He said, however, that Japan needs to take the whole situation into account before considering the possibility of sanctions.

On Friday, Fukuda and Chinese President Hu Jintao, speaking in a 15-minute telephone call, agreed to work together in the international effort to find a solution to the crisis. Fukuda did not say how the countries would cooperate.

A Plea From Burma

Forward this link if you can



I have written this letter in regards to current political situation of Myanmar.

First I would like to thank you on behalves of all brave people of Myanmar for taking your valuable time to read this.

I am sure you have heard and seen most of the stuff that is currently going on in Myanmar so I will not bore you with a long story.

What media is still not telling the world is that people of Myanmar are now in the great hope for your help and the help of UN.

They have no one else to turn to and their own army is killing them brutally.
And since all their leaders were secretly detained without any warrant, people and sangas are leading the very dangerous demonstration by themselves without proper leadership.

That is exactly what that government wants. They are creating fake chaos activities with their own people impersonating as sangas and civilians in order for them to tell the world that they are just controlling the situation.

Please Mr. Bush and the UN, all the starving and abused people of Myanmar are crying for your help now. I’ve been contacted by many kids from the streets of Myanmar to ask United States and UN to take actions to protect their lives.

Please do not look into this manner as a simple foreign political issue.
What Myanmar is going through now is the crime against human rights.
If you can help in the Middle East issues where people are killing each other using guns, you should absolutely help our people with their bare hands, who are being tortured and shot to death on the city streets and in their own homes.

We understand you have sent a few sanctions to Myanmar Juntas before but they always lied as if they would correspond but ignored to the whole world.

Even thou they have began to communicate with UN now, yet they are still giving orders to shoot the peaceful sangas and innocent people on the streets.

Please help us Mr. Bush, Mr. Ban Ki-moon and all leaders of the world,
We have no weapons or protections. Please…..
Give us a right to live freely.

With all due respect

People Of Myanmar

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Birds of a Feather at UN

Here's no surprise. Russian and China won't condemn something they want to have the option to do in their citizens get uppity too. Imagine, demanding freedom! The nerve.

Russia and China dig in their heels over Burma as the West calls for UN sanctions

China and Russia signalled last night that they would block any UN sanctions against Burma as a UN envoy headed to Singapore to try to get a visa to enter the country.

The UN Security Council gathered in emergency session to discuss the crackdown on street protests in the country, amid calls from the US and the European Union nations for international action. After separate talks in New York, US and EU ministers condemned the violence against peaceful demonstrators and asked the 15-nation Security Council to “consider further steps including sanctions” against the junta.

But Wang Guangya, China’s UN ambassador, told the closed door Security Council meeting that, while Beijing favoured stability and national reconciliation in Burma, the crisis was an internal matter. “We believe sanctions are not helpful for the situation down there,” Mr Wang said.

Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s UN Ambassador, said what Burma needed first was a “return to security”.

Ibrahim Gambari, the UN troubleshooter, was due to fly to Singapore to press for a visa to make his first visit to Burma since he met the democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi last year in an unsuccessful attempt to secure her release from house arrest.

Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary-General, urged the Burmese regime to co-operate with Mr Gambari's mission and repeated his call for the “utmost restraint toward the peaceful demonstrations taking place”.

Zalmay Khalilzad, Washington's UN ambassador, also called on Burma to let Mr Gambari in without delay. “It is very important that this be done on an urgent basis,” Mr Khalilzad said. “It would not be good for Mr Gambari to visit grave sites after many more Burmese have been killed.”

Gordon Brown had earlier added his voice to the growing chorus of criticism, when he warned the reclusive regime in Burma that “the whole world” was watching the stand-off.

“Its illegitimate and repressive regime should know that the whole world is going to hold it to account,” the Prime Minister said, speaking at the Labour Party conference in Bournemouth. “The age of impunity in neglecting and overriding human rights is over.”

The pro-democracy demonstrations and crackdown by the army could not have come at a worse time for the reclusive military leadership in Burma.

World leaders were assembled in New York when the demonstrations in Rangoon gathered momentum and the struggle has dominated the debate at the UN General Assembly.

President Bush has announced fresh US sanctions against Burma, the European Union is strengthening its measures against the regime and further action may follow from the UN Security Council meeting.

France, which currently holds the presidency of the UN Security Council, appeared eager to set the example. President Sarkozy called last night on French businesses, including the oil giant Total, to freeze investments in Burma in response to the crackdown.

Burma was forced on to the formal Security Council agenda last September by a procedural vote. China, Russia, Qatar and Congo voted against. China and Russia also vetoed a US-sponsored resolution in January calling for Burma to stop persecuting minority and opposition groups and to start a political dialogue.

China, Burma’s largest trading partner, is regarded as crucial to the international response. In the past it has refused to interfere in the country’s internal affairs but may be softening its position.

The West hopes that Beijing, which is hosting next year’s Olympics, will take a tougher stand against Burma, as it has done recently in relations with Sudan and Zimbabwe.

“China has made some significant concessions recently on its links with Sudan, but it has not gone that far on its links with Burma,” said David Mathieson, a Burma consultant for Human Rights Watch.

“If things heat up, that is not going to look good for China in the lead up to the Olympics at all,” he said.

Myanmar Update

Bloodshed in Burma as soldiers open fire

When the trucks carrying soldiers passed through the crowd, people applauded and shouted "hero!" in mockery. Seconds later a long burst of automatic gunfire sent them scrambling – thousands of men, women and children diving behind whatever cover they could find on a street in downtown Rangoon.

It was the moment Burma's military regime decided to crack down on the democracy protesters who have threatened its 19-year hold on power.

By the end of the day, two monks and a civilian were reported to have been killed and dozens injured by soldiers and armed police wielding batons and rifles.

One of the monks was beaten to death with rifle butts, witnesses said. The true death toll may be much higher.

Western leaders called for tough new sanctions on the regime to stop the bloodshed but with Burma's allies Russia and China able to veto any resolution by the United Nations Security Council, the chances of immediate action appear slim.

All day, gunfire crackled over Rangoon and tear gas hung over the city's holiest Buddhist sites. Despite the presence of soldiers outside the main monasteries, tens of thousands of monks and their supporters marched through the city. Tens of thousands more milled about on the crowded pavements offering tacit support.

Similar peaceful protests took place elsewhere in the country including Mandalay and Sittwe.

The Sule Pagoda in Rangoon, the scene of a massacre during similar demonstrations in 1988, was the main focus for yesterday's protests.

Soldiers armed with automatic weapons were lined up along the roads leading to the huge gold dome which sits at an intersection in the city centre. From a nearby rooftop long processions of protesters could be seen approaching from the north.

The red robes of the monks made a broad stripe down the middle of their mostly white-shirted supporters, walking at their side to offer symbolic protection against the bullets. Bystanders bowed down at the monks' feet.

The protesters passed under the noses of the soldiers guarding the pagoda.

A witness described how one monk stood alone in the open space before the troops and persuaded some followers to sit with him on the ground, in open contempt of the guns.

Others played cat and mouse, dashing from one side of the road to the other across the line of fire.

Later, another large group of protesters approached the pagoda from the south and advanced to within 30 yards of the soldiers.

No one here doubts that a massacre could happen at any moment. But in their anger, and their love for the monks, thousands of people have overcome all fear.

Earlier, men in police uniforms attempted to stifle the protest before it set off, as it has every day, from the Shwedagon Pagoda around noon.

As a column of monks appeared with flags, the security forces with their shields, batons and rifles moved in swiftly to set up a security cordon.

A group of women began wailing and praying. They were almost hysterical in their grief. They said they had seen two adolescent monks shot down just 20 yards away. All that could be seen at the spot were some red robes.

To the mounting distress of the women, the security forces seized a monk with a flag who was acting as a standard bearer and held him as a hostage to protect themselves from the angry crowd behind a flimsy barbed wire barricade.

Several more monks and supporters were bundled into trucks and driven away.

The women sought sanctuary inside a monastery but found that a group of soldiers appeared to have been billeted there overnight.

The men in their green overalls, standing alertly with their rifles in hand, had tears in their eyes too. Apparently they were also distressed by what had happened.

Outside, groups of monks and protesters stood beyond the security cordon singing their mantra: "We spread our love and kindness to everybody."

"Let us live and be without anger or violence," they sang on, and applause broke out.

The soldiers at the barricades levelled their rifles. Soon stones started to be thrown from the crowd at the security forces, who cocked their weapons and fixed their bayonets. Tear gas was fired and the crack of rifle fire rang out.

Like most of yesterday's shooting it appeared to have been directed into the air and the stand-off lasted for many hours. During a lull a man shouted at the troops: "We are all Buddhists! If you kill a monk you will suffer in hell!"

As loud thunder rolled around the cloudy sky, the protesters in the street and the young monks watching over the walls of their monasteries applauded.

There is no doubt that the people who braved the soldiers and their guns will be back on the streets today.

"We strive for our liberation," said one monk.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Is Rangoon Burning?

The MSN goes to great lengths to avoid the ideology of the Myanmar rulers and always refers to them as "Military" or "Junta" but make no mistake, they are the contemporaries and former allies of the Viet Cong and the Khmer Rouge. They are communists.

Myanmar crackdown: 'Monks killed'

At least five protesters have been killed by Myanmar security forces Wednesday, according to opposition reports, as the anticipated crackdown began.

Speaking to CNN, Aye Chan Naing of Oslo-based opposition group Democratic Voice of Burma, said it had had been told by the main Bhuddist organisation that at least five monks had been killed.

And speaking from neighboring Thailand, the spokesman for the resistance organization the National Council of the Union of Burma (Myanmar), Soe Aung, told CNN that at least one monk died after clashes with security forces in Yangon.

The AFP news agency also reported officials as saying that at least three monks had died, including one who was shot as he tried to take a firearm from a soldier. The agency also reported officials as saying that two other monks had been beaten to death. A protester who was not a monk had died after being shot, it quoted Yangon General Hospital as saying.

It is not known if these fatalities are the same as those reported by the Democratic Voice of Burma and the National Council of the Union of Burma.

Meanwhile, an opposition Web site gathering information from sources inside Myanmar reported security forces have shot at least two protesters near Sule Pagoda, a Buddhist monument and landmark located in Yangon's city center.

"One protester reportedly died, according to people who took part in the demonstration," the Web site said. "The soldiers continued firing at the demonstrators, who numbered several thousand."

Since last week thousands of monks, barefoot and dressed in red robes, have taken to the streets of Yangon, with little incident. However, on Wednesday the opposition-issued report -- which CNN cannot independently verify -- painted a different picture.

Earlier in the day security authorities used tear gas, warning shots and force to break up a peaceful demonstration by scores of monks gathered around the Shwedagon Pagoda.

The Web site reports that protesting "monks were beaten and bundled into waiting army trucks," adding about 50 monks were arrested and taken to undisclosed locations.

In addition, the opposition said "soldiers with assault rifles have sealed off sacred Buddhist monasteries ... as well as other flashpoints of anti-government protests."

It reports that the violent crackdown came as about 100 monks defied a ban by venturing into a cordoned off area around the Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar's holiest Buddhist shrine.

It says that authorities ordered the crowd to disperse, but witnesses said the monks sat down and began praying, defying the military government's ban on public assembly.

Security forces at the pagoda "struck out at demonstrators" and attacked "several hundred other monks and supporters," the opposition Web site detailed.

Monks were ushered away by authorities and loaded into waiting trucks while several hundred onlookers watched, witnesses said. Some managed to escape and are headed towards the Sule Pagoda, a Buddhist monument and landmark located in Yangon's city center.

Aye Chan Naing, speaking to CNN, said that any violence used against monks could draw more of the population into the protests. "I think it will really anger the general public," he said. "It's a really shocking situation for a lot of people."

Speaking to CNN from Thailand, editor of Irrawaddy Magazine Aung Zaw said protestors he had spoken to were determined to continue their demonstrations, using hit-and-run protests, despite there being "a lot of injuries and wounded people."

He added that the developments in communications and technology since 1988 - when the last major protests and crackdown took place - had also helped, although some phone lines in Myanmar had been cut in recent days. "In spite of that we are getting images and information," he said.

He said that there were also fears about refugees being unable to escape into neighboring countries such as Thailand, India and China. "In Thailand several checkpoints have been closed down," he said. There was no comment from Thai authorities on his claim.

Observers have been preparing for possible violence in Myanmar, where human rights concerns have emerged as an international issue.

"We have no rights, no rights of media, no rights of freedom, no freedom at all," one man told CNN's Dan Rivers, near the Myanmar-Thai border.

Cambodia Drug Bust

Major Drug Discoveries Found in Cambodia

This meth lab recently discovered in Phnom Penh's Dangkor District is the largest ever discovered in Cambodia. Police at the scene confiscated laboratory machinery, $100,000 in counterfeit notes, guns and huge quantities of methamphetamines.

Police say the lab was used to manufacture and test new generations of increasingly potent illegal drugs.

Another so-called super-lab recently discovered in Kompong Speu province, west of Phnom Penh, was used to make the raw materials needed to produce methamphetamines.

Police say they discovered almost four tons of drug-producing chemicals, enough to make hundreds of thousands of pills.

Lars Pedersen is the head of the United Nations Office on Crime and Drugs in Cambodia. "This puts Cambodia in a higher league in terms of the drug problem. It's now clear that we have drug production taking place in Cambodia. The main drug, which is abused in the country -- and that goes through the country -- is metamphetamines."

The U.N. says 60 percent of the world's 25 million methamphetamine users are living in Asia. Eighty percent of those are under 26 years of age.

In the past, drug enforcement officials say traffickers used Cambodia solely as a transit point. Most drugs came down the Mekong River from Burma and Laos into Cambodia en route to Thailand and Vietnam. Some got shipped further to Australia, the U.S. and Europe.

Pedersen says that the recent discoveries of production facilities in Cambodia reflect a growing drug problem in the region. "It's part of a worsening trend in general in the region," he says. "But trafficking in Cambodia is also influenced -- trafficking and production for that matter -- is also influenced by the crackdowns in Thailand, by a tougher policy in Thailand and in China for that matter, also. So it's a matter for traffickers, producers, to find alternatives and this country is a very attractive alternative."

Robert Bruce is with GSM Consultancy and works with governments in the region to safely dispose of illegal drugs. He says that the Cambodian government and other partners deserve credit for acting quickly to try to contain the methamphetamine problem. "It's really unfortunate that Cambodia is being used as a production center but at the same time I think it's very good that the government is stepping in early, supported by donors and supported by other governments to take actions before it becomes more widespread."

Pedersen says methamphetamines made in Cambodia pose a threat to all countries. "We should not forget that it affects all of the rest of the world because drug production in the magnitude that we see here is not only intended for the Cambodian market, it is intended for the world market."

U.N. officials say that greater cooperation between law enforcement and government officials in the region is needed if the threat from illegal amphetamines is to be contained.

Indonesia Earthquake

Another earthquake.

Strong earthquake shakes Indonesia

A powerful undersea earthquake rattled western Indonesia today, officials said, but there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

The 6.4-magnitude quake was centered 80 miles southwest of Padang, a town on Sumatra island still recovering from a series of strong tremors that killed nearly two dozen people earlier this month, the U.S. Geological Survey reported.

It struck nearly 21 miles beneath the ocean floor at 10:43 p.m., the USGS said.
Indonesia, the world's largest archipelago, is prone to seismic upheaval due to its location on the so-called Pacific "Ring of Fire," an arc of volcanos and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin.

A massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami on Dec. 26, 2004, killed more than 131,000 people in Indonesia's Aceh province and left a half-million homeless.

East Timor Blames Indonesia

As well he should blame them.

E.Timor ex-militia chief blames Indonesia for 1999 mayhem

Indonesia was responsible for the bloodshed surrounding East Timor's independence vote in 1999, a former pro-Jakarta militia chief told a commission set up to investigate the violence at a hearing on Wednesday. Pro-Indonesian militiamen went on a violent rampage before and after the U.N.-sponsored vote that ended 24 years of Jakarta rule in the former Portuguese colony.

The Commission of Truth and Friendship (CTF), which was set up by Indonesia and East Timor to promote reconciliation between the two neighbours, is holding a final round of hearings this week in East Timor to try to establish the truth about the bloodshed.

Jhony Marques, who was sentenced to 33 years in prison by an East Timor court, said that Indonesia's president at the time, B.J. Habibie, and his chief security minister General Feisal Tanjung should be held responsible for the violence.

"All policies were made by the central government and the military chief in Jakarta," Marques, who led the Alfa militia group, told the commission.

"So the authorities, especially the Indonesian president and Menkopolkam (chief security minister), must be responsible for the murder in East Timor," he said. "It is not fair if we face justice but the key persons that I mentioned are free."

Marques said he ordered his men to attack a convoy of nuns and a priest in Lospalos district in 1999 and admitted that he was on drugs at the time.

Eight people were killed and 300 women were sexually assaulted in separate attacks by his men and other militiamen, he said.

On Tuesday, a former district chief told the commission that before the vote he had been asked by two retired Indonesian generals who were cabinet ministers in 1999 to set up a militia to defend integration.

"We were invited by Minister of Information Yunus Yosfiah and he told us that Indonesia would give funds and weapons to those who supported integration," Tomas Gonsalves said.

He also alleged that then-transmigration minister, Abdullah Hendropriyono, who later became the chief of the national intelligence agency, offered money from his ministry to fund the creation of a militia group.

The United Nations estimates about 1,000 East Timorese were killed when pro-Indonesia militias went on a rampage before and after the territory voted to break away from Jakarta rule.

Indonesian officials have told the commission that only about 100 people were killed. The militias, backed by members of the Indonesian army, also destroyed most of East Timor's infrastructure.

Critics say the commission is toothless because it lacks the power to punish those found responsible for abuses.

Predominantly Catholic East Timor became fully independent in May 2002 after 2 years of U.N. administration that followed 24 years of Indonesian occupation.

Hmong Refugees Update

US senators in Hmong refugee appeal

Senators from Wisconsin, Minnesota and California are urging the State Department to take action to protect a group of Hmong refugees being held at an immigration detention center in Thailand. The six senators wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice about the roughly 150 Hmong refugees who have been held for 10 months at Nong Khai, 310 miles northeast of Bangkok.

"As longtime advocates for the Hmong, it is our hope that the United States will remain a leader in seeking protection and assistance for the detainees in Nong Khai," they wrote. "We urge you to continue pressing the Thai government to provide better living conditions for these detainees, and to ultimately bring about a swift resolution to this ongoing problem."

The State Department said it had not yet seen the letter and could not comment.

The letter was signed by Wisconsin Democrats Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl, California Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar and Minnesota Republican Norm Coleman.

The Hmong are an ethnic group from Laos who fought alongside the U.S. during the Vietnam War. Many settled in the U.S. starting in the 1970s, with most settled in California, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The senators noted that Hmong at the Thai detention center recently staged a hunger strike to protest their conditions. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and human rights advocates have said the refugees are crammed

into two windowless cells and are forbidden to go out, and that their sole source of water comes from a bathroom.
"While we understand that the Thai government does not intend to deport the Nong Khai detainees back to Laos," they wrote, "we are concerned by recent reports which indicate that detention conditions have worsened, and that the Thai government is decreasing its commitment to assist Hmong fleeing persecution from Laos and blocking efforts to resettle eligible individuals to third countries."

The Thai embassy in Washington didn't immediately return a telephone message left Tuesday.

The Hmong were on the verge of being repatriated to Laos in January, but promises from Western countries to take them for resettlement halted the move.

East Timor Protest

One of the beefs the Bali Bombers had against the Austrailians they killed was the Austrialian intervention during murderous rampage in East Timor back in 1999. The religious aspects of those killings have been completely ignored.

Protesters demand justice as East Timor probe closes

Protesters called yesterday for the disbanding of an Indonesia-East Timor commission looking into violence surrounding East Timor's 1999 independence vote, demanding justice for what happened.

The Commission of Truth and Friendship (CTF), which was set up in 2005 by Indonesia and East Timor to promote reconciliation between the two neighbors, is holding a final round of hearings this week in East Timor.

But critics say that the commission, which is meant to uncover details of the violence and human rights abuses that occurred as East Timorese prepared to vote, is toothless because it lacks the power to punish those found responsible for abuses.

"We want justice," chanted about 70 members of student and rights groups as about 100 security personnel stood on standby.

"There is no tolerance for anyone intending to eradicate justice," read one banner, while another said: "Justice should go through the courts, not through compromise."

"The CTF only defends the criminals and stands in the way of justice," said Xisto da Costa, one of the protesters. "They don't hear the victims' voices."

The UN has strongly criticized the CTF and refused to send any of its officials to testify at several rounds of hearings, saying those guilty of rights violations should face justice.

"This hearing session is quite special, not only because it is the first time it is being held in Dili ... but also because this will be the last public hearing held by the commission," said Benjamin Mangkudilaga, the Indonesian co-chairman of the commission.

On Monday, the commission heard the testimony of Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, who led the nation's fight against Indonesian rule and who spent seven years in jail in Jakarta.

Yesterday a former district chief told the commission that before the vote he had been asked by the Indonesian military to set up a militia to defend integration.

"We were trained by General Prabowo in Aileu and we had weapons," Tomas Gonsalves said, referring to the former head of the Indonesian military's special forces, Prabowo Subianto.

Gonsalves alleged that then-governor Abilio Soares, who died earlier this year, asked militia members to kill independence supporters and church leaders.

In the 1999 vote the East Timorese voted in favor of breaking away from Indonesia, leading to serious violence blamed on militias backed by the Indonesian military.

Erap Appeal

Estrada asks Sandiganbayan to reverse conviction

Former president Joseph Estrada has filed a motion for reconsideration asking the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court’s special division to reverse its September 12 verdict convicting him of plunder.

In his motion, Estrada, through his lawyers, said the court erred when it convicted him by acquitted his alleged co-conspirators.

The motion also said Estrada had been denied his right to be presumed innocent and had been convicted “on the basis of surmises, inferences and speculative evidence,” and that “the court had pyramided inference upon inference to build a case for conviction against President Estrada.”

"This cannot be done under our rules of evidence," it stressed.

"The crime of plunder is basically a crime involving conspiracy by many persons, and the two alleged conspirators of President Estrada, namely, Attorney Edward Serapio and Senator [Jose] Jinggoy Estrada, were acquitted by the court. Due to the failure of the information to include the other co-conspirators, this is fatal to the prosecution," the motion said

"An allegation of conspiracy, or one that would impute criminal liability to an accused for the act of another or others, is indispensable in order to hold such person equally guilty with the others. Failure to include in the information the co-conspirators as defendants would deprive the accused of his right to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him, in violation of the constitutional guarantee," it added.

Estrada’s motion also claimed the anti-graft court admitted “inadmissible hearsay” evidence, "which violated the right of the accused to confront [the] witnesses against him."

They pointed that while the court rejected the testimony of former Ilocos Sur governor Luis "Chavit" Singson, which led to the acquittal of Serapio and the younger Estrada, Singson’s testimony about Estrada was accepted, along with other collaborating evidence.

"The court used, by way of corroboration, the listahan, or ledgers, prepared by or under the supervision of the same witness. This is a bootstrapping argument, where the written ‘ledgers’ of the witness were used to corroborate the oral testimony of that witness,” the motion said.

The motion said this was against the rules of evidence and was “also unusual because it was proven that Chavit Singson manufactured formal documents to show that the P200 million tobacco excise tax was fully liquidated and settled,” it said.

The motion also said Estrada was convicted based on “circumstantial evidence” although “the factual bases for such evidence were not proven.”

It said the Sandiganbayan also erred when it assumed that the four counts of plunder he had been charged with were separate and independent acts instead of being considered the means through which only one crime of plunder was committed.

"As a result, under the decision of Sept. 12, 2007, the accused was burdened four times heavier than the prosecution,” it said.

“In other words, the accused, if he worked for an acquittal, would have to prove his innocence four times, while the prosecution would have to prove only one of the four counts to obtain a conviction,” it added. “This violates the sporting idea of fair play, which is the essence of due process, and it resulted in mistrial."

The motion also said the prosecution failed to prove that the crimes Estrada was accused of had been committed “by reason of his public office.”

"The decision of the Sandiganbayan, while calling the acts attributed to the accused as ‘plunder,’ actually convicted him of illegal gambling,” the motion said.

But even then, it said, “no evidence was presented to prove this allegation. In fact, there was even no evidence to prove that there was illegal gambling. Since the money allegedly collected by the principal witness, Chavit Singson, [was] all private moneys, the other element of plunder alleged…’unjustly enriching himself or themselves at the expense and to the damage of the Filipino people and the Republic of the Philippines,’ had no proof to stand on.”

“An accused can be convicted of an offense only when it is both charged and proved," it stressed

Estrada was convicted after the court said the evidence showed he had accepted kickbacks from the illegal numbers game “jueteng” and receiving a commission from the sales of shares of stock in Belle Corp.

He was sentenced to reclusion perpetua, which carries a jail term of between 20 to 40 years imprisonment.

Myanmar Crackdown Begins

Everyone forgets, if they ever knew, that the Junta killed 3,000 pro-democracy protesters in 1988. It was only a matter of time before they started cracking down on these protests.

Myanmar cops fire warning shots to disperse monks defying ban on assembly

Police in riot gear fired warning shots Wednesday to disperse more than 100 Buddhist monks who defied the Myanmar government's ban on public assembly.

The monks were trying to penetrate a barricade blocking Yangon's famed Shwedagon Pagoda. The junta has banned all public gatherings of more than five people and imposed a nighttime curfew following eight days of anti-government marches led by monks in Yangon and other areas of the country, including the largest in nearly two decades.

Firing shots into the air, beating their shields with batons and shouting orders to disperse, the police chased some of the monks and about 200 of their supporters, while others tried to stubbornly hold their place near the eastern gate of the vast shrine complex.

Some fell to the ground amid the chaos and at least one monk was seen being struck with a baton.

There were unconfirmed reports of others being beaten.

Soldiers with assault rifles earlier blocked all four major entrances to the soaring pagoda, one of the most sacred in Myanmar, and sealed other flashpoints of anti-government protests.

A comedian famed for his anti-government jibes became the first well-known activist rounded up following the protests.

Zarganar, who uses only one name, was taken away from his home overnight by authorities shortly after midnight. His family members said Wednesday they were told he had been "called in for temporary questioning."

Zarganar, along with actor Kyaw Thu and poet Aung Way, led a committee that provided food and other necessities to the monks who have spearheaded the protests. He had earlier been imprisoned twice and his comedy routines were banned for their satirical jokes about the regime.

The fates of the actor and poet were not immediately known but there were unconfirmed reports from dissident groups of more than a half-dozen other arrests.

Myanmar's leaders warned monks to stop the protests after some 100,000 people joined marches in the country's biggest city Yangon on Monday in the largest anti-government demonstrations since a 1988 uprising was violently suppressed.

The junta imposed the 9 p.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew and ban on public assembly after 35,000 people monks and their supporters defied the warnings to stage another day of protests Tuesday.

In Mandalay, Myanmar's second-largest city, more than 100 soldiers armed with assault rifles were deployed around the Mahamuni Paya Pagoda, erecting a barricade and barbed wire at the gate from which monks had marched out to protest.

Five military trucks were seen inside the monastery compound, while other soldiers were stationed along the road into the fabled city of temples and palaces.

"We are so afraid, the soldiers are ready to fire on civilians at any time," a man near the pagoda said, asking that his name not be used for fear of reprisals.

If the military responds to new protests with force, it could further isolate Myanmar.

If monks who are leading the protests are mistreated, that could outrage the predominantly Buddhist country, where clerics are revered. But if the junta backs down, it risks appearing weak and emboldening protesters, which could escalate the tension.

When faced with a similar crisis in 1988, the government harshly suppressed a student-led uprising. Security forces fired into crowds of demonstrators and killed thousands.

Foreign governments and religious leaders have urged the junta to deal peacefully with the situation. They include the Dalai Lama and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

President George W. Bush announced new sanctions against Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, accusing the military of imposing "a 19-year reign of fear" that denies basic freedoms of speech, assembly and worship.

Bush said the United States would tighten economic sanctions on Myanmar's leaders and their financial backers and impose an expanded visa ban on those responsible for human rights violations and their families.

The European Union also threatened to strengthen existing sanctions against the regime if it uses violence to put down the demonstrations.

Britain's ambassador to Myanmar, Mark Canning, met Tuesday with some of Myanmar's leaders, urging continued restraint. Canning said he told ministers the "demonstrations have been peaceful and well-disciplined."

"It will be disastrous in the eyes of the world on Myanmar if the authorities use force," he told them, saying they assured him the situation would be handled with caution.

2 Soldier Killed in Pinoy Duffy

How is it in the Philippines they are "Islamic Extremists" but in Thailand they are "Seperatists" or just "Restive"?

Two Philippine soldiers dead in assault on Muslim extremists

Two soldiers were killed and nine wounded in a clash with Al-Qaeda-linked Muslim extremists on the southern Philippine island of Basilan, military officials said Wednesday.

The Abu Sayyaf Muslim extremist group also suffered an undetermined number of casualties as the government stepped up its operations against rebels who killed 14 Marines -- beheading 10 of them -- in an ambush in July.

Abu Sayyaf members were seen dragging their fallen comrades away from the battle site, said regional military spokesman Major Eugene Batarra.

Intelligence reports indicated they suffered several dead and wounded, he added.

The two soldiers killed were members of Philippine special forces who were spearheading an assault on a group of Abu Sayyaf led by Furuji Indama who were involved in the July 10 ambush, said Brigadier General Arturo Ortiz, head of the army special forces.

The government responded to the July ambush with a massive military offensive leading to a clash on August 18 that left 16 Marines dead and about 30 Abu Sayyaf militants dead or wounded. However, Indama's group escaped the offensive.

Since then, there have been no reports of heightened fighting between the government and the Abu Sayyaf, which has been linked by intelligence agencies to Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network.

The Abu Sayyaf has been blamed for the worst terror attacks in Philippine history including bombings and mass kidnappings of foreigners and Christians.

US Special Forces are in the southern Philippines helping local troops hunt down members of the group.

Myanmar Police Use Batons on Monks

Police beat Myanmar protesters with batons

Police baton-charged a crowd of around 700 anti-junta protesters including students and Buddhist monks who gathered in Myanmar's main city Yangon in defiance of a ban, witnesses said Wednesday.

The police charged the crowd that had congregated for a ninth straight day of protests, beating students and monks alike with batons outside the Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar's holiest shrine, witnesses said.

After the crowd ran away, armed soldiers used barbed wire to cordon off the area around the pagoda. About 500 monks were believed to be inside the pagoda, while others tried to get inside.

Police were not seen arresting any of the protesters.

The baton-charge marked the first time that security forces have used violence to break up the protesters, who have taken to the streets in growing numbers over the last week.

Thaksin Case Suspended

Next time you have a Coup, make sure the guy you want to put on trial is still in the country.

Thailand suspends graft hearings against Thaksin

Thailand's Supreme Court said Tuesday it would postpone corruption hearings against ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra because of his prolonged absence from the kingdom.

Thaksin and his wife Pojaman, who have been living in London since a coup overthrew Thaksin's government last year, face charges of corruption and conflict of interest over a controversial real estate deal.

The Supreme Court issued arrest warrants against the former first couple in August, but they have refused to return to Thailand, with Thaksin repeatedly saying that he would come back only when democracy was restored.

"The court cannot proceed (with the) hearings as the two suspects cannot come under court authorities," said Tonglor Chomngarm, head of a panel of nine Supreme Court judges hearing the graft case.

The court did not set a new date for hearings.

Thaksin and Pojaman's lawyer Pichit Chenban thanked the top court for the move and said he was "glad" about the decision.

Prosecutors also told the Supreme Court judges that they were pursuing the process to get Thaksin extradited from Britain, with officials expected to fly to London in early October to start talks with British authorities.

"We are working on documents to prepare for his extradition," said Thai prosecutor Sakesan Bangsomboon.

He said they were hopeful that Thaksin could be extradited back to Thailand within 90 days of their London trip.

Thaksin is accused of illegally influencing a deal in 2003 allowing Pojaman to buy prime Bangkok real estate from a government agency for 772 million baht (22.7 million US dollars), about one-third its estimated value.

Thaksin, who owns Manchester City football club, denies the charges, as well as a dozen other corruption complaints bring brought against the billionaire at the behest of the Thai junta.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

US to impose new Burma sanctions

President George W Bush will impose new US sanctions on the Burmese military regime and its financial backers in a bid to support pro-democracy protesters, a senior aide said Monday.

Bush planned to lay out the measures Tuesday in a United Nations speech meant to step up international pressure on the military junta which rules Burma, as they face the biggest anti-regime demonstrations in two decades.

The sanctions include a visa ban on key members of the regime, White House national security adviser Stephen Hadley said. The US will also target assets of people tied to the regime, he indicated.

Bush planned to single out Burma in a UN General Assembly speech on human rights and democracy worldwide.

The aim is to support Buddhist monks who have led days of peaceful protests and create pressure on the military regime to free all political prisoners and move toward democracy, Hadley said.

"He will call for the United Nations and for other countries there to do all they can to support a process of political change in Burma," he said.

An estimated 30,000 monks and supporters marched on Monday through Burma's capital, Rangoon, the seventh day of a barefoot rebellion that has avoided a military crackdown so far.

Many passed by the headquarters of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), headed by Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Burma's rulers have had her under house arrest since May 2003.

Large Protests in Burma

'No injustice can last for ever': Burma's biggest protest for 20 years provokes ominous threat

As Gordon Brown sent a message of hope to the people of Burma, the military regime has issued an ominous threat to the Buddhist monks who are leading the series of extraordinary democracy demonstrations.

After 100,000 people filled the streets of Rangoon yesterday – the largest demonstration by far since the protests of 1988 – a government minister told senior monks that if they did not rein in the activities of those heading the marches, the regime would take unspecified action.

The threat by Brigadier General Thura Myint Maung, the religious affairs minister, represents the first public acknowledgement by the regime of the mounting challenge it faces as thousands of monks in maroon robes chanting slogans fill the streets of the country's largest city on a daily basis with calls for peaceful change.

At the same time, it has heightened speculation that the regime is preparing to crack down hard against the demonstrators if the protests continue, possibly with mass arrests and detentions.

For the regime, the stakes are huge. Every day, the number of ordinary people willing to risk the police and militia grows. Every day, the increasingly large numbers of people join the monks as they march for miles through the country's major cities calling for change. The key question is whether the government will respond with shocking violence as it has in the past or seek a compromise with the demonstrators in an effort to head off the challenge peacefully.

Observers believe that pressure from China, Burma's most important trading ally, may have been responsible for what has so far been a cautious response from the regime, seeking to avoid confrontation with the monks who are highly revered in Burmese society. Yet unconfirmed reports last night suggested the regime was planning to disrupt the marchers, possibly by sending in troops dressed as monks to act as agent provocateurs among the demonstrators. One report said that one unit of troops had been ordered to shave their heads and that 3,000 monks' robes had been sequestered by the military in readiness for such an operation.

"We fear that they will infiltrate the demonstrations, start violence, and the regime will use that as a pretext for a crackdown," said one campaigner.

Those activists inside Burma looking for international help may have taken some succour from Mr Brown, who told the Labour Party conference: "You know, there is a golden thread of common humanity that across nations and faiths binds us together and it can light the darkest corners of the world. The message should go out to anyone facing persecution anywhere from Burma to Zimbabwe – human rights are universal and no injustice can last forever."

He also said: "People will look back on events in Darfur as they did in Rwanda and say why did you the most powerful countries in the world fail to act, to come to the aid of those with the least power?"

However, there was no mention of additional aid for Burma, as many campaigners had hoped for. Earlier this year, a cross-party group of MPs claimed that Britain's aid to Burma should be hugely increased.

Some of yesterday's marchers walked for almost 12 miles, beginning once again at Rangoon's vast Shwedagon pagoda, the country's most sacred Buddhist shrine and probably its most famous tourist location. The vanguard of monks were joined by members of the public, students and MPs who were elected in the 1990 election ignored by the regime. Witnesses said that at one point the marchers filled a one mile section of an eight-lane road.

Up to 10,000 monks and people also marched in the country's second city, Mandalay, while around 20 other cities also saw smaller demonstrations.

"People locked arms around the monks. They were clapping and cheering," one witness in Rangoon told Reuters.

For the third day in succession a small number of marchers tried to visit the house of imprisoned democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. While the marchers were successful on Saturday – resulting in the first public appearance of Ms Suu Kyi for more than four years – both on Sunday and yesterday they were stopped from advancing to her house by police manning road blocks. The marchers made no effort to push past the road block, instead chanting a Buddhist prayer with the words "May there be peace" before dispersing.

It was several hours later that Brigadier General Maung met with senior monks at the modern Kaba Aye pagoda, north of Rangoon's city centre. During the meeting, details of which were broadcast on state television, he told the clerics that the protesting monks represented just 2 per cent of the country's population.

He said the demonstrations had been incited by members of Ms Suu Kyi's opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), the 88 Generation Students group and foreign activists, including the international media.

"Actions will be taken against the monks' protest marches according to the law if they cannot be stopped by religious teachings," he reportedly told the members of the State Monks Council. He denounced the "destructive elements who do not want to see peace, stability and progress in the country".

The wave of protests was sparked earlier this summer by a decision by the regime to increase fuel prices sharply. The government's move was seized on by democracy activists who used it to try and rally support. The government reacted quickly, seizing up to 120 activists and launching a hunt for those still at large.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Bali Bombers Update

This is a switch.

Indonesia rejects remaining two Bali bombers' appeals

Indonesia's Supreme Court has rejected final appeals from all three Islamic militants on death row for the 2002 Bali bombings, meaning they face execution by firing squad.

A request by one of the bombers, Amrozi, for a case review - the final legal avenue for appeal under Indonesian law - was rejected earlier this month. Now his two accomplices have also had their requests rejected, Supreme Court spokesman Nurhadi told the online Detikcom news agency.

"Their appeals have all been rejected," he said, referring as well to Imam Samudra and Ali Gufron.

The court spokesman could not immediately be reached to confirm the rejections.

The horrific 2002 Bali bombings killed 202 people, mostly foreign holidaymakers, and dragged the south-east Asian region into the so-called global "war on terror".

The attacks were blamed on the regional extremist network Jemaah Islamiyah, which was then linked to Al Qaeda.

The three bombers had been appealing on the grounds of a constitutional court ruling that anti-terrorism laws used to convict them introduced after the bombings could not be applied retroactively.

None of the trio has expressed remorse over the attacks.

A lawyer for the men said earlier this month that they were ready to die after signing a last statement reportedly vowing their deaths would lead to "hell for infidels."

"If we are executed, then the jets and drops of our blood will, God willing, become a ray of light for Muslims and become hell for infidels and hypocrites," reported the Koran Tempo, which obtained the statement.

Besides the three death sentences, Indonesian courts have issued two life sentences and more than 30 other long jail terms for people involved in the Bali attacks or for helping hide the key players when they went on the run.

Children Injured

9 children injured in teashop explosion in Thai south

Nine children were severely injured when suspected insurgents detonated a bomb at a teashop in Thailand's deep southern province Yala Saturday night, media here reported Sunday.

The bomb exploded at the teashop located in Yala's Muang district (provincial seat) at 8:25 p.m. (1325GMT) Saturday, according to news network The Nation.

The children, aged between six to fourteen years, were rushed to the Yala provincial hospital.

Thailand's three southernmost provinces -- Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani, has been stricken with a new wave of insurgent violence since January 2004, which has killed over 2,400 people in the region.

Thai authorities has blamed Malay-ethnic Muslim militants in the region for the bombings, drive-by shootings and arsons being staged on an almost daily basis.

Restive Killings

Three persons shot dead in Thai south

Three persons, including a female teacher and a couple, were killed inside their own houses by militants Sunday night in Thailand's far southern province Pattani, media here reported Monday.

News network The Nation quoted police as saying that a temporary female teacher of Ban Pathung School, 24-year-old Yamairya Mali, was killed when an unknown number of gunmen bombarded her house in Pattani's Saiburi district with M16 rifles and an 11-mm pistol at 7 p.m. (1200GMT).

Also in Saiburi, Sagariya Malae, 39, and his wife, Saripah, 28, were killed in their house at 7:30 p.m.(1230GMT). They were shot by M16 rifles and 9-mm pistols by an unknown number of militants.

All the three victims were Muslims, police said.

Pattani, along with nearby provinces Yala and Narathiwat in Thailand's deep south has been troubled with a renewed round of insurgent violence since January 2004, which has killed over 2,400 people in the region.

Authorities blamed Malay-ethnic Muslim separatists for the violence. Security personnel, local officials, educators and civilians, more often of the region's minority residents Thai Buddhists, have fallen victim to almost daily roadside bombings and drive-by shootings.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Brother Number 2 Under Arrest

Khmer Rouge's Nuon Chea Arrested, Facing Questioning By U.N. Tribunal

The man known as Brother Number 2, Nuon Chea, in Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge faced questioning on Wednesday by a war crimes tribunal. Cambodian court officials began interrogating the 82-year-old former leader at his rural village home on the Thai border. The Cambodian court set up to bring former leaders of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge regime is tasked to look into alleged crimes against humanity and had Chea transported via helicopter to the capital for official criminal processing.

According to an official statement, "Nuon Chea was brought before the office of the co-investigating judge of the ECCC in execution of the arrest warrant. An initial appearance will be held today during which he will be informed of the charges against him."

A court spokesperson said it should be clear by Wednesday evening if charges will be issued immediately to the defendant or whether authorities will place him in custody while they investigate.

Chea was once regaled as one of Pol Pot's top leaders his arrest is notable because of his alleged decision-making role in execution role. He is also believed to be one of the key architects in the execution policies of the 1975-1979 communist regime. The group is blamed in the deaths of over two million people.

"It's such a relief -- even though Nuon Chea's indictment cannot bring back what we have lost," said top Cambodian genocide researcher Youk Chhang in an AFP report.

"It's ... a sense that something has been done."

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Pinoy Shootout

10 killed in ambush of ex-vice governor in south Philippines

Ten people were killed and three others were injured including a former vice governor in an exchange of fires in the south Philippines' North Cotabato province, a military official said on Wednesday.

The shootout occurred at around 9:45 a.m. Wednesday morning when the convoy of Norodin Matalam, former vice governor of the neighboring Maguindanao province, was chased by armed villagers.

"Matalam's escorts and the villagers got out of the vehicles and opened fire against each other," said Col. Pedro Soria, commander of the Army's 602nd Brigade.

Matalam and his wife survived the shootout but were injured. The leader of the attacking villagers, Tayatog, and six of his men were killed on the spot. Three men from the other side were also dead after the crossfire, Soria said.

Soria said Matalam is recovering in the hospital and the cause of the shootout is under investigation.

Local news network ABS-CBN News said Matalam belongs to an influential Muslim political clan, and police are investigating whether the attack was politically motivated.

New Thai Army Chief

Thailand appoints new army chief

The King of Thailand Bhumibol Adulyadej on Wednesday signed a royal command to appoint Assistant Army Commander-in-Chief Gen. Anupong Paochinda as the new army chief, to replace junta leader Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, who retires by the end of September.

The appointment was approved along with other changes in the annual military reshuffle list, which involved 463 senior officers in the three armed forces -- army, navy and air force -- and the Supreme Command.

The list was earlier forwarded by prime minister Surayud Chulanont sent to the King for royal endorsement and will take effect on Oct. 1, the beginning of fiscal year 2008.

The endorsement ended the months-long speculation in regard to who would hold the most powerful position in Thai military as Sonthi, who also served as chairman of Council for National Security (CNS), is due to retire by the end of September at the mandatory retirement age of 60.

Anupong, another assistant army commander-in-chief Gen Saprang Kalayanamitr and Army Chief-of-Staff Gen. Montri Sangkasap had been tipped to be the possible candidates for the top army post, while Anupong and Saprang emerged in latest days to be the two leading runners in the race.

Both Anupong and Saprang are ranking members of CNS and had played key role in last year's military coup that army chief Sonthi led to oust elected prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Sonthi had been tight-lipped about his choice of a successor before the announcement, but it had been widely speculated that Anupong was favored.

Anupong, was the First Army Region Commander-in-Chief, who is in charge of the national security affairs in the central region, including the capital, in 2005 when Thaksin was prime minister.

The 57-year-old Anupong has three years to stay on the army chief post before he reaches the retirement age if not removed.

The appointments were revealed on the day that marks the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 19 coup. The military reshuffle, particularly the appointment of a new army chief, has been closely watched by political observers, as the country is expecting a general election set in December that would produce a new elected government after more-than one year's rule by a junta represented by the CNS.

Different from the low-profile Anupong, Saprang had been an outspoken critic of Thaksin before he was deposed and had been urging the CNS and the interim government to speed up efforts to eradicate Thaksin's political assets.

The reshuffle has seen Saprang appointed as a deputy permanent secretary for Defense Ministry, while Montri as deputy army chief.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Happy Ramadam, You're Under Arrest...

Malaysia might be free from colonial rule... But they seem to have traded British rule of law for backwards nonsense from the dark ages. And how long before the Religious Police start cracking down on non-Muslims breaking the Ramadan rules?

Crackdown in Malaysia on those violating Ramadan fasting norms

An undercover team has been set up in Malaysia's Kelantan state to nab Muslims who eat, drink and smoke in public places during the Ramadan fasting hours.

Kota Baru Municipal Council public relations director Azman Mohd Daham said, 10 men in plain clothes from the council's religious unit would keep an eye on food outlets. "This is the first time the council is taking this action as we have received numerous complaints about those who eat openly during the fasting period," he was quoted as saying by the local media.

In Kelantan, Muslim food outlets are allowed to operate only after 3 pm. Those caught not fasting will be fined 20 ringgit (about 140 rupees) while errant outlets can be fined up to 500 ringgit. Besides the municipal council, the Kelantan Religious Department's enforcement unit is also on the prowl for the same purpose, media reports added.

Moderate Indonesia

The dark ages advance in Indonesia.

Catholic students forced to wear the Islamic veil

The increasing numbers of local laws inspired by Sharia (perda syariat) , are threatening the religious freedom of non Muslims, forced to wear Islamic clothes. Political and religious leaders have long highlighted the problem, but so far, no concrete steps have been taken to resolve the issue.

The latest episode reported by a Catholic family in Padang north Sumatra is worrying: Stefanus Prayog Ismu Rahardi has 3 children, 2 of whom attend state school; recently the teachers asked them to wear the Islamic veil or in Indonesian; jilbab. “It’s the first time that it has happened – says the father – and my daughters are scared, I tried to make them see the veil as a simple accessory, but they clearly understand that the problem goes well beyond aesthetics, they feel they are now in an environment that is hostile to their religion”.

The case is not an isolated one in the majority Muslim state. Since 2002 over 19 states have implemented the so-called perda syariat, norms which should however only apply to Muslim citizens. A Catholics student at a public school SMU Negeri II - Pesisir Selatan district – tells that this institute introduced the veil in 2005 and she herself has been forced to wear it. “Teachers pressured me into conforming – she says – now people see me on the streets and think that I have converted to Islam”.

Boniface Bakti Siregar, from Padang-based Catholic Affairs in the Ministry for Religious Affairs says that such perda has caused serious psychological impact to non-Muslim students. “They have no choice to stay at this state-run schools, since there are no both catholic and protestant schools in those districts which are located very far from the provincial capital of Padang”.

Following the move to regional autonomy, 22 regencies and municipalities in Indonesia have adopted laws inspired by Sharia: some have criminalized behaviour forbidden by Islamic law, such as adultery, prostitution, gambling, alcoholism and they restrict women’s freedom. Over 55 members of parliament sought to highlight the non-constitutional aspects of this problem last year, but the Minister for the Interior placed all responsibilities at the door of regional governors. In the country the strong intellectual influence of Muslim religious leaders are concentrated on trying to contains fanaticism and Islamic extremism.

MILF Pulls Back?

The MILF has aparently abandoned some areas and now is offering to "pull out" others. Is this a sign of success or a tactic? Only time will tell.

Military welcomes MILF pull-out offer

As far as the military is concerned, there are no recognized camps of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Basilan.

But the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) nonetheless welcomes the MILF's offer to pull out of the province to enable the military to go after Abu Sayyaf extremists.

"It's up to them. But ever since, we do not recognize any MILF camp in Basilan," Marine Brigadier General Juancho Sabban, deputy commander of the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), told reporters in a phone interview on Monday.

He said the MILF claimed to have a battalion, or some 500 men, in Basilan.

Sabban also heads Task Force Thunder, the military's offensive against the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group in retaliation for the killing of 14 Marine soldiers, 10 of whom were beheaded, in Basilan last July.

Sabban said the MILF's offer would "definitely help" the military offensive.

He said the MILF rebels could temporarily stay in Barangay (village) Ginanta in Al-Barka to avoid the military operations against the Abu Sayyaf.

MILF spokesperson Eid Kabalu said over the weekend that their group would abandon strongholds in Basilan and Sulu to give way to a "big military offensive" against the Abu Sayyaf bandits and avoid "misencounters" with government troops.

The offer was also seen as a gesture of goodwill on the part of the MILF ahead of the resumption of the stalled peace talks between the rebel secessionist group and the government.

Crash Update

The death Toll seems to vary depending on the report. It is actually amazing that anyone survived this crash.

At least 91 dead in Thailand plane crash

Investigators searched the twisted and charred wreckage of a passenger flight today for clues why it crashed in stormy weather on the resort island of Phuket, killing at least 91 people, including 55 foreign tourists.

Searchers found the plane's two flight data recorders, or black boxes, but authorities said it was too early to say what caused yesterday's crash. Transport Minister Theera Haocharoen said the black boxes would be sent to the United States for analysis.

"Hopefully, we will learn in a few weeks the cause of accident," he said.

Officials have said weather was likely a factor. The budget One-Two-Go Airlines flight was carrying 123 passengers and seven crew members from the capital Bangkok to Phuket when it skidded off the runway in driving wind and rain. It then ran through a low retaining wall and split in two.

"The fire was throughout the airplane," Phuket Deputy Gov. Worraphot Ratsrimaa told The Bangkok Post. "We expect that at least 90 percent of the passengers died." He told The Associated Press that the dead included Irish, Israeli, Australian and British passengers, but that it was not immediately clear how many foreigners had died.

Survivor Nong Khaonuan told a Thai TV network that "nearly half the passengers were foreign tourists." There were no immediate reports of Americans on board. The network broadcast video of what it said were two foreigners being carried away after surviving the crash.

"I've flown on many airplanes before, and I can say there was something strange about our landing," Khaonuan said. "We seemed to drop down too fast."

Phuket, one of Thailand's most popular resort islands, is still recovering from the devastation of the 2004 tsunami. The gigantic waves and the earthquake that spawned them killed almost 230,000 people in parts of Asia.

Chaisak Angsuwan, director general of the Air Transport Authority of Thailand, said Flight OG269 from Bangkok's Don Muang airport attempted to land in heavy wind and rain, which made visibility poor.

"He decided to make a go-around, but the plane lost balance and crashed," Angsuwan told The Bangkok Post. "The plane then fell onto the runway and broke into two."

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Crash In Phuket

UPDATED: A plane crash in bad weather in Phuket. At this point 87 dead, 42 injured. The plane split so the survivors seem to have been in the tail section.

Thai plane crash in Phuket kills 88

A budget airliner crashed on the Thai resort island of Phuket on Sunday, killing 88 people as it broke up and burst into flames while trying to land in driving rain, a senior official said.

Forty two people were injured, Phuket deputy governor Vorapot Rajsima told a news conference, and a hospital official said at least five of the survivors were seriously hurt.

Flight manifests at Phuket airport suggested well over half the 123 passengers on the flight from the Thai capital were foreign and an Airports of Thailand official in Bangkok said most of the foreigners were European holidaymakers.

There were seven crew members on board. Earlier reports had said there were five.

Eight Britons, eight Thais, five Germans and two Australians were among 42 known survivors, hospital workers said.

"The plane looks as though it veered off the runway into the side of a hill," said Leslie Quahe, a Singaporean pastor who arrived at the scene about an hour after the crash.

"I was coming down the hill and saw smoke coming from the plane. It had broken into several parts," Quahe told Reuters.

Officials said the McDonnell Douglas MD-82 had broken in two on impact on landing on the Andaman Sea paradise isle, which was hit by the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

The tail section of the One-Two-Go flight lay on the runway and the rest was among the trees lining it.

"I'm deeply sorry about this tragic event," Udom Tantiprasongchai, chairman of Orient Thai Airlines which operates the low cost airline, told reporters, promising a full investigation.

Plane Crash At Thai Airport

A plane has crashed during an attempted landing at Phuket airport in Thailand, it is reported.

There was heavy rain when the Orient Thai Airways plane ditched.
It is unclear whether anyone has been killed or injured.

Chaisak Angsuwan, director general of the Air Transport Authority of Thailand, said: "The visibility was poor as the pilot attempted to land.

"He decided to make a go-around but the plane lost balance and crashed. It was torn into two parts."

The plane was travelling from Bangkok to Phuket.

Phuket plane crash

A passenger jet of One-To-Go Airlines with 128 people aboard crashed while landing at Phuket Airport in southern Thailand late Sunday afternoon and rescue workers said the death toll could be high.

The plane skidded off the runway after landing and crashed into trees, bursting into fire, said Channel 7 TV.

Initial reports estimated that at least 60 passengers died in the fiery accident.

Airport officials and rescue workers are still working to help the victims from the plane which caught fire after it crashlanded and skidded off the runway.

Authorities said there were 123 passengers and five crew members on board when the plane crashed at about 4pm Sunday afternoon.

Weather in Phuket has been bad for several days, with thunderstorms and high wind gusts at times.

Jet crashes in Phuket, Thailand--reports

A passenger jet operated by Thai budget carrier One-Two-Go has crashed upon landing on Thailand's resort island of Phuket in bad weather, news reports said Sunday.

"The airplane asked to land but due to the weather in Phuket -- strong wind and heavy rain -- maybe the pilot did not see the runway clearly," civil aviation official Chiasak Angkauwan told TiTV news channel.

"The plane then fell onto the runway and broke into two. It is expected that there will be deaths."

He said the plane was an MD-80 operated by One-Two-Go, one of Thailand's budget carriers.

Plane breaks in two after crash at Phuket Airport

An airliner exploded and broke in two after it slid off the runway and crashed into nearby walls at Phuket airport on Sunday afternoon.

Some reports put the death toll at about 60, but this has yet to be confirmed. The nationalities of those onboard is also unknown, but Phuket is a highly popular destination for overseas tourists.

The airliner services Bangkok-Phuket flights six times a week. The ill-fated airline left Don Muang airport at about 2.30pm.

Information now coming in said the plane, which was being used by local budget travel company, One-to-Go Airline, had 123 passengers and five crew.

The aircraft, flight number OG 269, landed at Phuket airport at about 3.40pm from Bangkok and was taxiing along the runway when it went into a slide. Phuket had earlier been hit by heavy rains.

It crashed into trees and walls surrounding the airport.

Eye-witnesses said the impact of the crash caused the plane to break in two and they heard a series of explosions.

Rescue teams and navy personnel rushed to the scene.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Bomb Kills 1

More restiveness from the usual suspects.

Bomb kills 1, wounds 5 in Thailand's restive south

A bomb in Thailand's insurgency-plagued south killed a soldier and injured five others when it destroyed a pickup truck they were in Saturday, police said.

Suspected insurgents planted the bomb on a bridge in Pattani province's Mayo district, 750 kilometers (470 miles) south of Bangkok, said police Lt. Col. Chaiyapruek Phatiwarakorn.

Chaiyapruek said the six soldiers had been lured to the area to investigate a suspected bomb that turned out to be a hoax — but as they later passed the bridge a bomb exploded and instantly killed the driver, Sgt. Maj. Sermsak Kanchanaphet.

Five soldiers sitting in the back were wounded, Chaiyapruek said.

More than 2,400 people have been killed in Thailand's Muslim-majority southernmost provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat, and southern part of nearby Songkhla, since a long-simmering Islamic separatist insurgency flared up in January 2004.

Government efforts to suppress the rebels have had little success, as the insurgents continue to carry out drive-by killings and small-scale bombings on a near-daily basis.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Tsunami Warning

Tsunami warning issued for India, Indonesia, Australia, Sri Lanka

Japan's Meteorological Agency issued a tsunami warning for Indonesia, Australia, India and Sri Lanka on Thursday after another powerful earthquake rocked the south of Sumatra island.

"There is a possibility of a destructive regional tsunami in the Indian Ocean," the agency said in a statement, adding that the Indian Ocean coasts of Sumatra and Java and Australia's Cocos Islands could be affected within an hour.

It said all coasts of India's Andaman and Nicobar Islands and all coasts of Sri Lanka could be affected between one to three hours.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said the quake, which came about 14 hours after another powerful tremor in the same area, measured 7.5. It had earlier put its strength at 7.9.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Burma Protests Noticed By West

Burma Protests Draw Harsh Crackdown

Recent protests in Burma by democracy activists, defiant monks and other citizens objecting to an unprecedented spike in fuel prices have sparked a brutal crackdown by the country's ruling military junta and cast a new spotlight on the gravity of conditions in the resource-rich country.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced Monday that he was dispatching his special adviser on Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, to hold talks with the military rulers. The announcement came after the United Nations' independent expert on human rights in Burma, Geneva-based Paulo S?rgio Pinheiro, disclosed that he had received reports of severe beatings and torture of detainees from this latest sweep of arrests. Amnesty International said more than 150 people have been detained since Aug. 19.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said yesterday in a statement that the United States was concerned about the fate of those detainees. "Multiple reports indicate that many of these protesters have been brutally beaten and interrogated," McCormack said. He called on the junta to allow access to them by human rights groups and the International Red Cross and to release all political prisoners.

The rare demonstrations and unrest across the closed country, also known as Myanmar, were sparked by an overnight increase Aug. 19 of up to 500 percent in fuel prices, which left public transportation and basic consumer goods unaffordable to much of the impoverished population.

Monks joined the protests late last week, which brought monasteries and temples under scrutiny by soldiers searching for evidence of incitement. Angry at being beaten with bamboo poles, some monks took 13 officials hostage in the central city of Pakokku as 500 of the clergymen in orange robes marched peacefully. Government troops and hired gunmen blocked the protesters, Radio Free Asia reported from Bangkok. One monk told the radio service that attackers rounded up fleeing monks with lassos and beat them with truncheons and rifle butts.

Similar incidents involving monks elsewhere in the country seemed to add popular legitimacy to the uprising.

Monks go out daily with bowls to beg for food from the population, which supports them. Over the weekend, they reportedly formed a group called the National Front of Monks and demanded that the junta express regrets over the violence, reduce fuel prices, which previously were subsidized, and begin negotiations with the opposition National League for Democracy and the 88 Generation Students movement. An uprising in 1988 was brutally crushed by the military, and some veterans of that protest formed the 88 Generation Students group.

President Bush and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown have decried the heavy-handed tactics against political prisoners and citizens and called on Burma's leadership to heed international calls to free democracy activists. First lady Laura Bush also weighed in last week, urging the world community to do something to alleviate the suffering of the Burmese and to gain the release Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent 12 years under detention or house arrest.

Like Sudan's troubled Darfur region, Burma has become a cause for celebrities and activists, who are calling attention to the junta's excesses through such means as the video-sharing YouTube Web site and global letter-writing campaigns. Last Thursday, 25 Hollywood stars, including actors Jim Carrey and Dustin Hoffman, called on the United Nations to put more pressure on the junta to release Suu Kyi, whose party won 1990 elections but was blocked from taking power by the military. Owen Wilson, Susan Sarandon and Jennifer Aniston were among those joining the petition.

Analysts agree that the United States and Western powers can do little to persuade Burmese military leaders to lessen their hold over the population, saying the main pressure would have to come from countries such as China and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. While the United States has an embassy in Rangoon, no U.S. official is allowed to engage military or top political leaders there.

Priscilla Clapp, the former attache at the U.S. Embassy in Burma, said the recent riots were significant, though still not as widespread as the 1988 student protests. In an interview yesterday, she said she sensed strain within the Burmese leadership and found the precipitous withdrawal of fuel subsidies "extremely suspicious."

Clapp said country's rulers, in their new capital Naypyidaw, which translates as "abode of kings," had lost touch with citizens. "Sitting in this golden bunker, in their little palaces," the generals "don't comprehend or fully appreciate the economic distress the population is under," she said.

Five of Burma's top generals are said to be sick, and for popular protests to continue after the arrests means that "people sense the regime is creaky," Clapp said. "I think the current regime is shaky. Corruption is massive."

Burma's prospects as a regional energy supplier appeared to brighten recently, with neighbors India and China vying for its natural gas reserves, some of which are offshore in the Bay of Bengal. China recently struck two deals with the Burmese government, one for a pipeline from a port that would receive oil tankers from the Middle East to service China's oil-starved southwestern regions, and another for natural gas.

Clapp said a combination of Chinese pressure and internal decay may be the only way to bring about change in Burma.

"I am sure the Chinese know that the U.S. is looking their way to talk to the Burmese," she said. "Long-term transition has to come from inside. We can't affect what is going on right now except rhetorically, and we should."