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Will civil strife recur in Burma?

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Bangkok, Thailand — Burma is on the brink of fresh civil strife as many of the young generation have voiced dissatisfaction with nonviolence. The most intolerant citizens have called for a U.S. military invasion or an armed struggle to overthrow the deep-rooted stratocracy in Burma, due to the junta’s insistence on building a military-privileged country.

In addition, many people have a negative attitude toward China for encouraging the junta’s brutal oppression of its own people.

Lieutenant-General Thiha Thura Tin Aung Myint Oo, first secretary of the State Peace and Development Council, has declared that the country will hold a general election in 2010, according to the junta’s mouthpiece newspaper, New Light of Myanmar. Tin Aung Myint Oo said the country had made noteworthy improvements in recent months due to the implementation of a seven-step roadmap to democracy. He made these statements Oct. 24 at a ceremony to mark the 63rd anniversary of the United Nations.

On the same day, the junta demonstrated its blood-and-iron policy. Six opposition leaders from Mandalay were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 11 to 13 years by a military court, on charges of threatening the nation’s “tranquility” and stirring up hatred. All six, including one woman, were executives of the National League for Democracy and were arrested in September last year in a nationwide crackdown on those who participated in the Saffron Revolution protests.

Tin Aung Myint Oo also said cooperation with the United Nations is the cornerstone of the nation's foreign policy. He said the country had consistently cooperated with the United Nations, citing as evidence the visits of several senior U.N. officials including that of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in May this year, following Cyclone Nargis.

However, the regime has turned a deaf ear to successive resolutions adopted by the U.N. General Assembly calling for a return to democracy in Burma through a tripartite dialogue between the junta led by Senior General Than Shwe, democratic forces led by Aung San Suu Kyi, and representatives of ethnic nationalities. It is clear that the junta has no plan to heed the U.N. call or to release political prisoners, a precondition to the tripartite dialogue.

Meanwhile, on Oct. 25, Asian and European leaders urged the ruling junta in Myanmar (Burma) to release detained politicians and lift restrictions on political parties. This call was made at the Asia-Europe Meeting in Beijing attended by leaders from more than 40 countries.

Asian and European leaders, in a joint statement following a two-day summit in Beijing, encouraged the junta to engage all stakeholders in an inclusive political process in order to achieve national reconciliation and economic and social development. They called for the lifting of restrictions placed on political parties and the early release of those under detention.

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European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the Beijing statement showed progress on the issue. But military rulers have shown no interest in heeding international calls for political reforms and the protection of human rights. Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for 13 years. Various human rights groups and activist groups have been calling on foreign government leaders, and the public, to demand she be freed along with all political prisoners in Burma.

The U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana, said last week he would ask the military regime to implement four key measures before the 2010 elections, to pave the way for democracy. These include a revision of domestic laws to ensure compliance with international human rights standards, the gradual release of all prisoners of conscience, and human rights training for the military.

Burma’s ruling junta has been in the limelight again this year for its merciless handling of the Cyclone Nargis tragedy. The cyclone hit Burma on May 2-3, affecting some 2.4 million people in the Irrawaddy delta and in Rangoon district. Almost 140,000 people were killed or remain missing, according to the official figures.

Despite the natural disaster, believed the worst in the country's recent history, the regime insisted on holding a national referendum in May to approve a new Constitution designed to strengthen the military's leading role in politics, even under an elected government.

The referendum, held without international monitoring, was blamed for the junta's disinclination to let in emergency aid and relief workers during the first catastrophic weeks after the storm, which left some 2.3 million people in desperate need of supplies, water, shelter and medical relief.

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A new report into the responses and impacts of Cyclone Nargis in Burma was released on Oct. 22 by the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma. The report found that losses incurred by the cyclone accounted for 21 percent of the country's GDP for the previous fiscal year.

Inflation is currently around 40 percent. The disaster also caused a loss of an estimated 197 million working days. Severe rice shortfalls are expected in 2009, as the affected regions provided much of the country's supply. This will also impact exports to neighboring countries. Forty-two percent of households in the affected regions lost all their food stocks and 45 percent had only enough to last up to seven days soon after the cyclone hit.

In the Irrawaddy and Rangoon districts, 75 percent of health facilities and 91 percent of public education facilities were destroyed. More than one-third of those in these areas have some form of lung or stomach ailment. Some 23 percent of households in cyclone-hit regions reported psychological problems. A disproportionately high female mortality rate means many infants cannot get proper care and feeding. Those surviving are highly susceptible to being forced into the sex trade due to employment pressures.

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Zin Linn was born on February 9, 1946 in a small town in Mandalay Division. He began writing poems in 1960 and received a B.A (Philosophy) in 1976. He became an activist in the High School Union after the students' massacre on 7th July 1962. (more...)

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