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BANGKOK, Thailand - Military-ruled Myanmar is a pariah state to many because of its dismal human rights record, slapped with an arms embargo by the U.S. and European Union. But to some of the world's other top weapons dealers, Myanmar is just another customer.
India, the world's most populous democracy, and North Korea, Asia's most repressive dictatorship, are both suppliers to Myanmar's military, and neither has signaled it would stop business after the junta's crackdown on pro-democracy protests last month.
As is the case with the biggest suppliers to Myanmar — Russia, China and Ukraine — such arms sales may be widely criticized for helping the regime stay in power, but they don't clearly violate any laws, treaties or international agreements.
"Together these countries can supply anything Burma could possibly want, and they have more or less done so in the last 15 years," said Siemon Wezeman, a researcher for the Arms Transfers Project of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, or SIPRI.
Most known arms transfers to Myanmar are legal, and some are even reported to the United Nations. But other transactions are murkier, as countries more sensitive to international opinion apparently try to mask their activities. Analysts say these include India, as well as Israel and Singapore.
By far the largest amount of Myanmar's arms have been imported from China, according to SIPRI's register of transfers of major conventional weapons. Its database, which represents conservative estimates, shows Myanmar importing $1.69 billion in military goods from China between 1988 — when the current junta took power after violently crushing a pro-democracy uprising — and 2006.
(Agencies) Burma's military junta dismissed a UN statement calling for dialogue with the pro-democracy opposition, insisting it will follow its own roadmap toward reform - a plan critics say is a ruse aimed at extending the government's grip on power.
The impoverished country's main opposition party, however, hailed the UN declaration and urged the ruling generals to comply with demands for negotiations with pro-democracy forces and ethnic minorities, and the release of political prisoners.
State-run TV and radio issued a statement arguing that conditions inside Burma - a reference to the anti-government protests that were violently suppressed by troops on September 26 and 27 - were not the concern of the outside world.
Burma's "current situation does not affect regional and international stability," said the statement, attributed to Colonel Thant Shin. "However, we deeply regret that the UN Security Council has issued a statement contrary to the people's desires."
Bangkok (dpa) - Amnesty International called Monday on the United Nations Security Council to impose a comprehensive and mandatory arms embargo on Burma in the aftermath of a brutal crackdown on peaceful protests in the country.
"An unambiguous message must be sent urgently to Burmese military leaders that their brutal crackdown on peaceful protestors and escalating deployment of excessive force will not be tolerated or fuelled by any member of the international community," said Irene Khan, secretary general of Amnesty International.
Amnesty also called on China, India, Russia, Serbia, Ukraine and all South-East Asian nations to prohibit involvement of their agencies, companies and nationals in the direct and indirect supply of military and security equipment, munitions and expertise, including transfers claimed to be "non-lethal," to Burma.
"It is unacceptable for states to continue to supply arms to a government that is already responsible for persistent serious violations of human rights and which now resorts to violence against peaceful demonstrators," Khan said in a statement made available in Bangkok.
The European Union and United States imposed embargoes on the direct and indirect supply of military items to Burma in 1988 and 1993, but many countries continue to supply the ruling junta with arms and military equipment despite its well-earned reputation for using guns against its own people.
Since 1988, China has supplied Burma's army with a wide range of military equipment, including tanks, armored personnel carriers and artillery pieces such as howitzers, anti-tank guns, anti-aircraft guns and jet aircraft, Amnesty said.
In January, India promised to give a "favorable response" to Burma's request for military equipment, and in April, military forces from India and Burma conducted joint military exercises.
The Russian Federation has reported to the United Nations that it exported 100 large calibre artillery systems to Burma during 2006. Russia also exported 10 combat aircraft in 2002 and four combat aircraft in 2001, and the Russian MiG military aircraft company had a representative office in Burma in October 2006, Amnesty said, citing published sources.
Between 2004 and 2006, Serbia supplied Burma with weapons and munitions, and in April 2004, the Ukrainian state-owned arms company, UkrpetsExport, agreed to a 10-year contract to supply 1,000 armoured personnel carriers to be assembled in Burma as part of a deal worth reportedly in excess of 500 million dollars.
On the heels of it's CEO, Erik Prince, testifying before Congress yesterday, the Myanmar Junta Leader, of the country formerly known as Burma (Ed. Note: The term Burma, following Michael Stickings of The Reaction lead, will be used by The Garlic), Senior General Than Shwe announced today that he has contracted with Blackwater USA for "internal security".
"I don't know what the Iraqi's problems are," Shwe was overheard saying, following the announcement, "We certainly don't mind if these Blackwater soldiers take out a few civilians... In fact, I am expecting such results."
The Burmese authorities have a new enemy to hunt down—dogs which are roaming Rangoon with pictures of Than Shwe and other regime leaders around their necks.
A resident of Shwegondine, Bahan Township, told The Irrawaddy on Friday that she saw a group of four dogs with pictures of the regime’s top generals around their necks.
Sightings were also reported in four other Rangoon townships—Tharkayta, Dawbon, Hlaing Tharyar and South Okkalapa.
Some sources said the canine protest had started at least a week ago, and was keeping the authorities busy trying to catch the offending dogs. “They seem quite good at avoiding arrest,” laughed one resident.
Associating anybody with a dog is a very serious insult in Burma.
Spray-painters are also at work, daubing trains with the words “Killer Than Shwe” and other slogans.
With huge images of the Nobel peace laureate projected onto stage screens behind him, the frontman of US hip-hop group the Black Eyed Peas told the crowd in Bangkok, "This song . . . we dedicate to Aung San Suu Kyi." It was July 2006. The song was Where is the Love. And the concert was simulcast via satellite into Burma.
In Rangoon, the dedication to Burma's detained opposition leader was sweet inspiration for music journalist Thatoe Kyaw, who braved the military regime's wrath to respond in the music magazine he then edited. "I wrote (asking), where is the love amid all the persecution and executions?"
At 20, Thatoe Kyaw had been interrogated, tortured and sentenced to 28 years' jail for student political activity. He was released in a rare amnesty in 2002. "I wrote how I felt that song was a reflection of my feelings." The article was rejected by the censors, but Thatoe Kyaw was undeterred. Like hundreds of others, he took the words that he could not publish on paper in Burma and sent them out via a blogsite, Longwalktofreedom.blog.com.
Last month, as civilians joined Buddhist monks in pro-democracy demonstrations across the country, Thatoe Kyaw was at it again. In the first three weeks of September, he estimates he sent more than 100 images and reports of the monk uprising to Radio Free Asia and The Irrawaddy, a Burmese news journal based in Thailand. "In this uprising bloggers played a big role. There were some individuals, some groups, but our objective was the same: to open up the black curtain . . . I saw my photos come back on the television."
Yet even he cannot help feeling hopeful. "There were no leaders in 1988, now we have many leaders. In '88, it came to a sudden stop, here its a lull, not a death stop. It's spiralling and going up again. The ongoing protests will come from monks, students and civilians. We have a new generation."
Burma has many ethnic armed groups, some of which have already reached ceasefire agreement with the military government—but all of them sharing the same aim of fighting against military rule.
Ethnic armed groups failed to participate in the recent countrywide protests, leading many observers to ask why. Did they lack military might? Or was a lack of unity the reason?
According to ethnic leaders, they did not want to get involved for fear their involvement would harm monks and peaceful demonstrators. They also did not want to block the way of Burmese soldiers fleeing to liberation areas during the crisis.
Mahn Sha, general secretary of the Karen National Union, said forces of its military wing, the Karen National Liberation Army, had supported the demonstrators by launching at least five attacks daily on regime forces.
“It was anyway not a good time for us to move our forces into cities as the military government would take the opportunity of saying ethnic armed groups were killing people,” he said.
It is 2 a.m. in Rangoon, Burma. In the middle of the tropical night, army troops pour into the neighborhood surrounding a peaceful Buddhist monastery. The soldiers occupy nearby homes, so that residents will not peek through their windows or go outside to witness the raid. Troops then storm the monastery, brutalizing, terrorizing and arresting the monks inside.
Eventually the monks are imprisoned inside Rangoon's former Government Technical Institute. According to one eyewitness, hundreds are crammed into each room. They have no access to toilets or sanitary facilities. Many of the monks refuse food from their military jailers. There is no space to lie down and sleep.
These are the stories of Burma's "Saffron Revolution." The protests that started a few weeks ago with a 500% spike in regime-controlled gas prices have now unleashed 19 years of pent-up national anger. As the demonstrations play out on front pages, computer monitors, and TV screens across the globe, millions of people have been inspired by the sea of orange-robed Buddhist monks standing up to the military dictatorship.
Millions have also been stunned by the junta's shameful response: nonviolent demonstrators struck down with batons, tear gas, smoke grenades and bullets; civilians, including children, seized at random; innocent men and women slain.
The generals' reign of fear has subdued the protests--for now. But while the streets of Burma may be eerily quiet, the hearts of the Burmese people are not: 2007 is not 1988, when the regime's last major anti-democracy crackdown killed 3,000 and left the junta intact. Today, people everywhere know about the regime's atrocities. They are disgusted by the junta's abuses of human rights. This swelling outrage presents the generals with an urgent choice: Be part of Burma's peaceful transition to democracy, or get out of the way for a government of the Burmese people's choosing.
Whatever last shred of legitimacy the junta had among its own citizens has vanished. The regime's stranglehold on information is slipping; thanks to new technologies, people throughout Burma know about the junta's assaults. The public mood is said to be "a mixture of fear, depression, hopelessness, and seething anger." According to reports from Rangoon, "The regime's heavy-handed tactics against the revered clergy and peaceful demonstrators have turned many of the politically neutral in favor of the recent demonstrators."
The international community, too, is distancing itself. On Saturday, during a "Global Day of Action for Burma," thousands of people marched through dozens of cities--from Kuala Lumpur to London, Sydney to Paris--in solidarity with the monks. Spiritual leaders, including Pope Benedict XVI and the Dalai Lama, have enlisted millions of faithful to pray for peace and justice in Burma.
The UN Security Council last week ratcheted up the pressure on the regime, issuing a statement supported by Burma's top ally China deploring the crackdown and calling for the release of thousands of political prisoners.
In official media today, Burma called the UN statement "regrettable", but vowed to cooperate with the world body while pressing ahead with its so-called "road map" to democracy.
"It is regrettable that the UN Security Council has issued a presidential statement on Burma on October 11, 2007, totally disregarding the fact that the situation in Burma does not represent a threat to regional and international peace and security," the official New Light of Burma newspaper said.
"The basic principle of the foreign policy of the Union of Burma is to maintain friendly relations with other countries in the region and in the world, and to have close cooperation with the United Nations," it added.
But it made no acknowledgement of the UN call for the release of political prisoners nor for the regime to engage in dialogue with detained pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar's military junta rejected a U.N. statement calling for negotiations with the opposition, insisting Friday that it would follow its own plan to bring democracy to the country.
The impoverished country's main opposition party, however, urged the ruling generals to comply with U.N. demands for negotiations with pro-democracy forces and ethnic minorities, and the release of political prisoners.
State-run TV and radio issued a statement Friday arguing that conditions inside Myanmar — a reference to the anti-government protests that were violently suppressed by troops on Sept. 26 and 27 — were not the concern of the outside world.
"Myanmar's current situation does not affect regional and international stability," said the statement, attributed to Col. Thant Shin. "However, we deeply regret that the U.N. Security Council has issued a statement contrary to the people's desires."
"The government of Myanmar will continue to implement the seven-step roadmap together with the people," the statement said, referring to the junta's plan that promises a new constitution and an eventual transition to democratic rule.
The process is supposed to culminate in a general election at an unspecified date in the future. But so far only the first stage — drawing up guidelines for a new constitution — has been completed, and critics say the convention that drafted them was stage-managed by the military.
YANGON, Oct 11 (Reuters) - Hundreds of Buddhist monks rounded up by Myanmar's junta were beaten and kept in animal-like conditions without toilets or drinking water during days of interrogation, one of those freed said on Thursday.
"At the beginning it was very, very bad," one recently released monk told Reuters, requesting anonymity because of the threat of repercussions against those who speak out against the regime, the latest face of 45 years of unbroken military rule.
Caged for more than a week at a former Government Technical Institute compound in north Yangon, the monks -- revered figures in the devoutly Buddhist nation -- were stripped of their maroon monastic robes and treated like common criminals.
"When one of us used a pronoun refering to himself as a monk, he was slapped," the monk said. "Then an interrogator said: 'You are no longer a monk. You are just an ordinary man with a shaven head.'"
The monks, mostly young men whom the army sees as the biggest threat to its iron grip on power because of their moral authority, were packed into rooms so tightly they could not lie down, let alone sleep, in the sweltering monsoon season heat.
For days, they had no toilet, nowhere to wash their hands, and were forced to scoop up slops of barely cooked rice with their bare hands.
"We had no spoons or forks so we had to eat with our fingers," said the monk, who spent 10 days in the makeshift detention centre. "The food was horrible."
At times during the relentless barrage of questioning to identify ringleaders of the biggest anti-junta protests in 20 years, the monks were forced to put their hands on their heads and squat while their inquisitors remained seated on chairs.
Those who gave wrong or inadequate answers were hit about the head or kicked, the monk said.
There was no medical treatment, he added, for those hurt during interrogation or during the nocturnal raids on Yangon monasteries in the final week of September, the first wave of a ruthless and clinical response to the demonstrations.
Through its rigidly controlled state media, the junta admits 10 people were killed in the crackdown, although Western governments say the toll is likely to be much higher.
The monk's testimony tallies with other accounts of abuse of detainees, including the reported death in custody of a member of the opposition near the former Burma's second city of Mandalay.
The Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPPB), a group of former detainees with extensive contacts, said on Wednesday 42-year-old Win Shwe had died "as a result of torture during interrogation".
As the junta continued to arrest dissidents, official papers accused foreign governments -- essentially the United States and Britain -- and media of stirring up the protests, which started in mid-August against shock increases in fuel prices.
"Stooges of foreign countries, neglecting the national prestige and integrity, put on a play written by their foreign masters," the official New Light of Myanmar said.
Singapore Airlines' Silkair will reduce its flights to Myanmar due to a drop in tourism after last month's bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests, a spokeswoman for the carrier has said.
Silkair usually flies to Yangon from Singapore twice a day - or 14 times a week - but has cut its scheduled flights to 12-13 a week and plans to scale back further to 10 next month, spokeswoman Renu Nair said.
"Leisure traffic (into Myanmar) is going to be down because of uncertainty about what's going on," she said.
Travel advisories by Western governments have resulted in a fall in bookings by European tourists, she added.
"For outbound flights out of Yangon, we are actually seeing more traffic," Nair said, though she could not immediately provide figures on passenger traffic in and out of Myanmar's biggest city.
Industry insiders say there has been a slide in foreign arrivals - both businessmen and tourists - since the protests against junta rule reached a climax at the end of September.
The manager of a Yangon-based travel agency said this week that most hotels had more than halved their rates, but occupancy levels were still below break-even point, a reflection of the international outrage at the crackdown on Buddhist monks and civilians in which at least 10 people were killed.
Even before the unrest, tourism was in a parlous state, a reflection of the dire economy and the calls by many, including detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, for people to stay away to keep tourist dollars out of the ruling generals' pockets.
Separately, Myanmar's state-owned airline said on Friday it had suspended flights to Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur because of a lack of insurance cover following the street demonstrations.
BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand's army-appointed government will take no action against Myanmar's junta for its bloody crackdown on democracy protests as it lacks the moral authority, Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont said on Saturday.
Surayud, a former army chief who was installed after last year's military coup, said any action by an interim government in Bangkok could also create headaches for any successor that emerged after a December 23 general election.
"As a Buddhist country, we disagreed with the violence dealt out by the Myanmar government, especially against the monks," Surayud said in a weekly television address.
"But if we do anything that will cause bad feelings with our neighbour, that will be problematic for the new elected government," he said. "My government, therefore, is very careful on this issue."
"I think we could pressure them more if we are not an appointed government," he said, adding that Thailand continued to stand by the Association of South East Asian Nations' (ASEAN) principle of "constructive engagement" with the generals.
ASEAN is one of the few international groups to admit the former Burma as a member, but was moved to official "revulsion" at last month's crackdown on monks and civilian protesters in which at least 10 people were killed.
ASEAN's attempts in the last 10 years to coax the recalcitrant generals into some form of democratic reform have had as little success as the sanctions favoured by the United States and Europe.
A prominent leader of the 88 Generation Students group sought by the authorities since the start of protest demonstrations in August was arrested on Wednesday morning when he emerged from hiding to be treated in a Rangoon clinic, activist sources said.
Three other members of the group were arrested on Tuesday, the sources said.
Hla Myo Naung, in his late 30s, suffers from a ruptured cornea and his doctor says he will lose the sight in one eye unless the condition is surgically treated, according to Htay Kywe, a leader of the 88 Generation Students group, who spoke to The Irrawaddy from his own hiding place. He is also on the regime’s wanted list for his part in the demonstrations.
Htay Kywe said Hla Myo Naung was arrested at the eye clinic shortly after arriving there.
Hla Myo Naung played a leading role in the 1988 pro-democracy uprising and spent five years in prison during the early 1990s. Thirteen of his fellow activists, including the most prominent, Min Ko Naing, were arrested on August 21 following a peaceful march against the government’s sharp increase in fuel prices.
Prominent leaders of the 88 Generation Students group, who led protests in August, were arrested at a hiding place in Rangoon on Saturday morning, said dissident sources.
The leaders, who were arrested on October 12, were named as Htay Kywe, Mie Mie and Aung Thu. A fourth person, Ko Ko, who helped them hide, was also arrested last night, said the sources.
BANGKOK, Thailand (CNN) -- Hundreds of villagers living on the outskirts of Myanmar's biggest city, Yangon, marched in support of the country's military junta Saturday after being threatened with steep fines if they did not, a political activist leader hiding in Yangon told CNN by phone.
Nilar Thein -- a key leader in the Myanmar-based group '88 Generation -- said residents of Shwe Pyi Thar village carried pro-regime placards after junta officials on Friday demanded at least one person from each household march in the government's rally. Junta officials also approached local factories and demanded they provide 50 workers.
According to the report, which CNN cannot independently verify, those who refused to march would be forced to pay steep fines.
The march comes on the heels of a massive government crackdown on peaceful pro-democracy marches led by widely respected Buddhist monks, which ballooned into mass demonstrations in late September. The monks took to the streets in August to protest the increase in fuel prices. Members of the '88 Generation group were involved in the marches.
Meanwhile, Thein confirmed two top '88 Generation leaders -- Htay Gyae and Ming Aung Thing -- have been arrested and are currently in separate detention centers in the country.
In addition, Amnesty International said another prominent activist -- Mie Mie -- had been arrested. Amesty International said one other activist was also in police custody but gave no name.
Hundreds of political prisoners have been locked in a Myanmar police compound and are facing squalid living conditions
Thein reported at least 900 detainees are being held in Mohbyee police compound in Yangon.
Kate McGeown has recently returned from a trip to Burma in the aftermath of a crackdown against anti-government protests.
Here she answers some of the questions sent in by BBC News website users.
October 13, 2007 - The Burmese military junta in Rangoon today mobilized over 10,000 people for a mass rally in support of the recently concluded National Convention. Ironically, the rallyists gathered despite the regime's order that prohibits the assembly of more than five people.
More than 10,000 people on Saturday gathered at the Thuwana football stadium in Thingan Kyun township of Rangoon, in support of the outcome of military junta's 14-year long National Convention, which was wrapped up in early September, local residents said.
The junta, as part of the massive crackdown on protests by monks and people, imposed curfew on September 25 and banned the assembly of more than five people in two of the countries largest cities – Rangoon and Mandalay .
"We have not heard of any announcement saying that the curfew and ban on gatherings have been withdrawn," a resident said.