Friday, May 30, 2008

U Kyaw Nyein

U Kyaw Nyein
Dr. Hlaing Myint

His name is U Kyaw Nyein and he is 84 years old. He was arrested for helping the KNU (Karen National Union) in 1971. During this period the Ne Win controlled regime was crushing the KNU with its four cuts program. The commander of the KNU in the Irrawaddy Division, Carbine Chit Lay Maung was very famous and a KNU hero. He had killed two Lieutenant Colonels and many Majors in the military. He would approach the soldiers and their navy boats at night and aim to shoot the officers. He was an excellent sniper, with his carbine. His shots never missed their target.

The army and navy attempted to corner him for more than a year. Finally, he was surrounded on Tha-mee-Hla Island. The army company that was in-charge of the final assault was led by my eldest brother, Captain Kyi Maung. My brother was ordered to catch him alive, but on approach to his hide-out, he and other soldiers were shot by single sniper fire. My brother was shot in the left arm. The army company finally bombed his hide-out with mortars and Chit Lay Maung and all the other KNU soldiers were killed.

My brother was taken back to Bogalay hospital. He died after receiving his second bottle of blood. Three days later, my brother was buried with a state funeral. In the evening of the same day Chit Lay Maung was also buried. But before his burial his body was dragged by 6 dogs that soldiers had chained to his legs. The soldiers also forced people to urinate on his body along the way. His body was then buried upside down.

My uncle, U Kyaw Nyein was arrested just before that final assault on Carbine Chit Lay Maung. The military found evidence after taking some KNU posts that U Kyaw Nyein had contributed funds and a type writer to the KNU. He was arrested and tortured. He could not admit to contributing to the KNU, as it would have been his death sentence. He was tortured for a long time. Finally the soldiers tied his hands behind his back, and placed a rope around his neck, threatening to dump him in the river. The army commander that tortured my uncle was Thura Kyaw Swar. He became the commander of Sagaing Division. During the the 1988 uprisig he slaughterd more than 300 people, shooting them at close range after cornering them in a small street.

He was threatened, that if he did make an admission, he would be dragged from Bogalay to Myin-ka-kone, which is more than an hour drive and dumped in the local river. He was told “Only would only be luck, if he did not die.” He was dragged and he survived. After being dragged behind a vehicle for around an hour, he was repeatedly kicked, in public by the same soldiers. He was sentenced and served three years in jail. He suffered many physical traumas from his torture.

Between 1987 and 1991, I and U Kyaw Nyein traded sea food from the Bogalay and Labutta areas. We traveled even at night time by boat, going to any area, where even the locals would not go. It was hard to remember the routes, as there are so many. I know a lot of people from these areas, as friends and also as trading partners.

In September 1991, the military slaughtered many Karen people in these areas, after seizing some ammunition, from the KNU. U Kyaw Nyein and I lost two boats with five friends. They were traveling to the area where the slaughter occurred. The (10-horse powered) boats and all five people never returned. All would have been killed. The operation was carried out by No-11 Battalion, Brigadier Win Myint and Nyunt Tin. They slaughtered thousands of Karen from these areas. From that time onwards, they posted many army out-posts in these areas. So no-one could travel without permission from the military.

The military hate and are scared of the Karen in the Irrawaddy Division. They fear that the Karen may demand autonomy in this area. This is one reason the military would not allow overseas aid. They would want to prolong their plight, wanting the Karen to die. This is a way of cleansing the region of the Karen people. Many of the villages are Karen and some can not even speak Burmese. I saved four families from this area when the slaughter occurred and these four families still live with my relatives in a town near Rangoon.

I am worried for my uncle. I started this seafood business with his help, and without him I could not had established the business. All my siblings joined my business and have prospered. I have lots of gratitude to this uncle. I was arrested in 1996, for politics, and was released in December 2002. After my release, I did not visit him, as I feared the trouble this would cause him. Also, two of my friends, in Bogalay had been arrested several times for politics, so I dared not visit them either. So I have not seen my uncle since 1996, but we kept in touch, until I left Burma in December 2005. I could only send home $100 and some medicine in December 2007, after I arrived in Australia.

Neither, I or my family has been able to contact his family after the cyclone. I received an email, from Singapore that it is very hard to travel to Bogalay and enquire about his family. I have requested my brother to contact him, as soon as possible and to help financially with money I will send. U Kyaw Nyein and his family have never been afraid of the military. U Kyaw Nyein took on all the authorities in the Irrawaddy Division, including Lieutenant-General Tin Hla. He was threatened several times, but he did not care. His reply was, “You can kill me, but it will be on the radio, if you dare to touch me.”

I can not think about my friends in the villages in the Delta. The friends we traveled with, staying in their homes and eating their meals. I owe lots to these people - a very friendly and simple people. The villages in which we had roamed have been wiped from the map. Most of all, I really owe much to this uncle, not only my self, but the families of all my siblings, who still have this business.

Today I received news from Rangoon that my uncle U Kyaw Nyein had passed away about six months ago. My family did not want to tell me, as we are really attached to each other. Also I rarely have contact with my family, as my calls can cause trouble for them.

NOTE: Lieutenant-General Tin Hla was in charge of the LID 22 during the 1988 up-rising in Rangoon and is responsible for killing around 3000 unarmed protesters (out of 10,000 killed). He also gave the order for the shooting of about 70 children, who were mawned down by a power machine gun (G-3). They were shot by Captain Khin Maung Win, while they were sitting down begging with the their hands in the Buddhist prayer position, "Please, Uncle, Uncle do not kill us." Lieutenant-General Tin Hla was then posted in Karen State and subsequently the Irrawaddy Division. He later became Quartermaster General, Minister of Military Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister. He was sacked from these posts in November 2001 after his obnoxious behaviour and pride caused him to come in conflict with General Khin Nyunt and General Maung Aye.
Lt-General Tin Hla’s daughter (Ei Ei Tin), her husband (Moe Tin) and 2 children visited Australia about 3 months ago. This is in spite of visa bans and the imposition of financial sanctions on the regime. His granddaughter (Khine Tin Zar Thu) is enrolled at the University of NSW, to begin in 2nd Semester 2008.
More on General Tin Hla & the regime family members in Australian to come.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Gas Exports and the Missing Billion

Natural Gas Exports
Burma’s emergence as a major regional supplier of natural gas should proved considerable revenue for any the government to spend on much needed infrastructure, health care and education. Rising gas prices and increasing output volumes have caused Burma’s gas exports to soar in the last few years, dramatically improving the country’s balance of payments and the size of its foreign currency reserves.

Burma’s gas exports come courtesy of its possession of large, and exploitable, fields of natural gas offshore in the Gulf of Martaban and in the Bay of Bengal. Cumulatively, these fields have confirmed recoverable reserves of around 540 billion cubic metres – enough, at present prices and production volumes, to bring in annually around $US2 billion for the next 30 to 40 years. Two of the fields, the so-called ‘Yadana’ fields off Mouttama, and the ‘Yetagun’ fields off Burma’s Tenasserim (Tanintharyi) Division, came on stream in 1988 and 2000 respectively, and it these that are the overwhelming source of Burma’s current gas deliveries. The primary customer of the output from the Yadana and Yetagun fields is Thailand which, as a consequence, now runs a substantial trade deficit with Burma (of just over $US2 billion in 2006/07).

Over the next few years, however, the export of gas from Yadana and Yetagun will be joined by that from new fields off Burma’s coast in the Bay of Bengal. These fields, the most lucrative of which are collectively known as the ‘Shwe’ (‘gold’) fields, have roughly the same gas reserves present (an estimated 200–240 million cubic metres) as collectively present at Yadana and Yetagun. The Shwe fields were explored and developed by a consortium that comprised Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), together with South Korea’s Daewoo Corporation, the Korean Gas Corporation, the Gas Authority of India Limited, and India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corporation.

The ultimate customer of the gas actually delivered from Burma’s Shwe fields, however, will be China, which in 2007 ‘won’ a fiercely contested bidding war against India and South Korea. This result provoked consternation in South Korea and India at the time, not least because China’s reported bid was below that of India’s offer. China’s Yunnan Province will be the recipient of the gas, courtesy of a 2,400km pipeline that will come ashore near the port of Sittwe (via a facility at nearby Ramree Island), and run more or less the length of Burma into Yunnan Province. With little in the way of labour or environmental considerations to get in the way, construction of the Shwe pipeline can be completed relatively quickly (two to three years). As matters currently stand, however, a delay seems likely in the project, with a senior Yunnan official recently stating with respect to the pipeline that ‘whether, when and how to build it are yet to be decided’ (emphasis added). In the light of this, it is now likely that the first Shwe gas (and its revenue) will not flow until at least 2011/12.

Burma’s ‘Missing Billion’
Whatever the latest delays, the gas earnings discussed above should be transforming Burma’s fiscal circumstances – allowing for the spending on basic infrastructure, health and education the country so desperately needs.

However, under current arrangements, the foreign exchange revenues Burma is accumulating via its exports of natural gas are making next to no impact on the country’s fiscal accounts. The reason for this is simple – Burma’s gas earnings are being recorded in its state finances at their ‘official’ (exchange rate) kyat value. This official exchange rate of the kyat (at around 6 kyat:$US1) over-values the currency by around 150–200 times its market value (currently about 1,000 kyat:$US1). This dualism in Burma’s exchange rate imposes other great costs on Burma’s economy, but critical here is that the use of the official exchange rate to convert the country’s gas earnings into kyat dramatically underplays their true (potential) contribution to state finances. Recorded at the official rate, Burma’s gas earnings for 2006/07 of $US1.25 billion translated into 7.5 billion kyat, or a mere 0.6 per cent of budget receipts. By dramatic contrast, if the same US dollar earnings were recorded at the market exchange rate (at that time around 1,200 kyat:$US1) their contribution of 1,500 billion kyat would more than double total state receipts, and more or less eliminate the country’s fiscal deficit. That this is not done is yet another revealing episode of the chronic macroeconomic mismanagement that inflicts Burma, as well as the SPDC’s priorities.

So where do Burma’s generals hide the ‘missing’ billion or so kyat they keep away from the state’s official finances? No-one but they know for sure, but the gas revenues do show up in the statistics for Burma’s foreign reserves provided by the Myanmar Central Statistical Organisation (MCSO) to the IMF. An inspection of the vaults of the Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank for the money might be a good place to start however – as also might the accounts of some accommodating if unscrupulous banks offshore. From these refuges the SPDC can (and does) spend as they might whim – on the new capital of Naypyidaw, on the nuclear reactor that is being purchased from Russia, on the extraordinary ‘physic nut’ bio-fuel campaign, and so on. In any case, the generals can rest assure that the money they expropriate is safe from prying eyes, and safe from the peoples for whose lives it might make a difference.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Zombie (Respect to Fela Kuti)

Lyrics & Music by Fela Kuti

Zombie O' Zombie
Zombie no go, unless you tell them to go
Zombie no stop, unless you tell them to stop
Zombie no go turn, unless you them them to turn
Zombie no go think, unless you tell them to think
Zombie O' Zombie
Zombie no go, unless you tell them to go
Tell them to go straight
No break, no job, no sense
Tell them to go kill
No break, no job, no sense
Tell them to go quench (destroy)
Without thought of us
Go and Kill
Go and Die
Go and Quench (Destroy)
Zombie O' Zombie
Zombie O' Zombie
Quick march
Slow march
Left turn
Right turn
About turn
Double time
Open your hat
Stand at ease
Fall in
Fall out
Fall down
Get ready
Zombie O' ZombieZombie no go, unless you tell them to go
Fela Kuti the great Afrian song-wirter, muscian and singer from Nigeria. Many of his songs loudly criticse the military rulers of Nigeria. A great and courageous artist. Two of the people at BEW are big admirers. All military regimes have things in common. Fela Kuti songs illustrate that there are similarities between the defunct military regime of Nigeria and those that rule Burma. Cruelty and incompentence!
Song posted when we figure out how to do this.

Inconvenient arithmetic truths

The current issue of financial assistance for post-Nargis reconstruction in Burma has helped to highlight the current parlous economic circumstances and suggests the need for an examination of Burma's future growth prospects (of course on the heroic presumption that such assistance would be used for infrastructure renewal etc).

Before that task can be undertaken, some truly sobering realities about Burma's current situation, and by implication the magnitude of the costs imposed on the Burmese people by the SPDC, must be faced. By our reckoning, Burma's real per capita GDP is (at best) about one fourth of Thailand's on a purchasing power parity basis - similar to what it was in 1980 and down from one eighth in the mid 90's, the narrowing due to the extreme upward bias in official Burmese growth rates and the impact of the Asian financial crisis on Thailand. Reaching the current income of level of Thailand would be a useful economic development goal for Burma. But the mathematics of compounding paint a somewhat gloomy picture.

In order to converge to where Thailand is now, Burma will have to double its real per capita income twice. With compounding (which is what economic growth entails) the doubling time is approximately 70/growth rate pa (sometimes shown as 72/rate depending on how the compounding is done). So at a growth rate of real per capita income of 2% pa, Burma will require 70 years to reach Thailand's current position. To put that growth figure in perspective, Australia and Sweden grew at an average 2.1% pa over the 50 years 1954-2004. Drop down to 1.5% pa (like Ecuador and South Africa over the same time period) and the time to catch Thailand's current position is 93 years. So if Burma can do better than Malawi has done over those 50 years (1.3% pa) and slightly worse than New Zealand and Costa Rica (1.6% pa) it would remain the case that no person alive in Burma today would ever see Burma as rich as Thailand is now.

The implications are worse when we consider Burma catching up to Thailand i.e. converging to the same per capita income in the future as opposed to converging to a given fixed level of income. Now the halving time of the ratio of Thailand's real per capita GDP to that of Burma is given by 70 divided by the differential between Burma's growth rate and that of Thailand (i.e. Burma's rate - Thailand's rate). So if Burma's real GDP per capita grows faster than Thailand's by 2% pa then Burma will catch up to Thailand in 70 years. Thailand grew at 3.6% pa over the 40 years 1962 to 2002, so in order to catch Thailand in 70 years (if that rate is maintained), Burma would have to exceed the growth performance of South Korea 1954-2004 (5.2%) and match that of China and be slightly behind Taiwan (5.8%). But even if Thailand drops back to a 2% average growth rate going forward, Burma would need to post 4% pa to catch them in 70 years - i.e. Burma would need to become the new Japan! I'm sure there are few volunteers for the task of outlining how that might be brought about. But at 3% (Israel, Italy) in the same scenario the convergence time blows out to 140 years. Matching or just shading Thailand's ongoing growth rate means effectively never catching up.

So although any reconstruction ( if it occurs) may provide some growth potential, the enormity of the challenge and the urgency of the need for regime change must not be ignored. Burma's military rulers have not only subjected past and present generations to oppression and economic misery, they have condemned at least the next 2-3 generations to the same fate. The magnitude of such crimes must be kept uppermost in the minds of potential donors when considering whether or not to put substantial sums into the hands of the SPDC.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Leopards and spots - no handouts to SPDC

The potential international donors appear to have listened to reason and refused to simply write cheques to the regime. This is the only sensible course of action. We often remark upon the irrationality of the SPDC, but this claim must be viewed in its proper perspective.

On the hand rationality relates to the relationship between ends and the use of available means. In terms of some stated ends, such as economic development, the actions of the regime are clearly irrational, leading to the very opposite outcome. In terms of their *actual* ends - maintenance of power and rent extraction - they are obviously quite rational (apart from the possibility that their oppression will in the long run be self-defeating, a proposition currently based more on hope than reality alas).

From another perspective (economic theory) rationality means consistency of behaviour, and it is this aspect of the SPDC's rationality that must disbar them from international assistance. In economic terms rationality as consistency means that the choices made by an agent satisfy at least the Weak Axiom of Revealed Preference: once an agent has chosen option A from an available set, they will not subsequently choose any of the rejected options when A is available.

The regime has already demonstrated that when faced with the choice of using available resources to save the lives of their people or using them to maintain/improve their own material and political position (stealing/rebadging supplies, failing to use military resources for rescue/relief, allocating resources to a sham referendum instead of rescue/relief etc) they chose the latter. If they are rational in a technical sense, which we believe they are, they will *always* make the same choice. They have revealed their preferences, and that evidence must preclude any guarantees on monitoring, access etc that might accompany any international assistance. In the face of their actions (and signals they have already sent in terms of the allocation of projects to Asia World Company, Htoo Trading, the Eden Group, Max Myanmar, Shwe Thanlwin etc) claims of intended compliance with specified conditions have no credibility. The Tatmadaw behaves, in effect, like a hostile army in the field in the pre-modern military era. It will continue to support itself at the expense of the surrounding citizenry as it has done for decades. Any flow of resources from outside will be appropriated for the same purpose - at all levels.

To argue otherwise is to suggest that the SPDC has undergone a road to Damascus experience in the past couple of weeks. That truly is the triumph of hope over reality. They are rational, and like the scorpion cannot fail to show their true nature via the choices they make. They should be dealt with accordingly.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Apologist pool

At least 2 get to vote for their choice (Royal couple Than
Shwe & Kyaing Kyaing).

Now that the referendum has been held (apart from the unfortunates whom Nargis temporarily deprived of their right to join the 92.4% plurality in favour of the new Constitution) the race is on to see which regime apologist will be first out of the gates with the argument that given the outcome of the vote, the results of the (genuine) 1990 election must be consigned officially to the dustbin of history. The argument could take two forms, realpolitik or SPDC cheerleading.

The realpolitik version is that the new constitution legally debars Suu Kyi from ever leading the country, and in fact prevents anyone who has ever been a member of a political party/organisation or advocated voting or not voting from being a member of the new parliamentary structure. As such, the NLD is a dead letter, and the 1990 results are incapable now of being recognised legally or legitimately instituted. Hence they must be forgotten.

The SPDC cheerleading version is similar but based on the pretense that the referendum was a real plebiscite i.e. one where it was legal to campaign for both sides, votes could be freely and secretly cast and the votes were actually counted. As such the people have spoken (92.4% no less) and performed a kind of mass version of the piecemeal resignations from the NLD that the New Light of Myanmar was wont to report on a daily basis for some years.

There are obviously numerous contenders to be the first to make the case (names like Taylor, Pedersen, Michael Aung Thwin spring immediately to mind) so we're running a contest to see who can find the first official in-print version of the '1990 is officially dead' line. It shouldn't be long in coming - at the 2004 Burma Conference in DeKalb the point was made during plenary discussion that a necessary step toward ultimately achieving democracy in Burma was to relinquish the 1990 results! That's right - the way toward genuine democracy is to ignore the results of the most recent (and most significant) indicator of what the preferences of the people actually are. Astonishing doublethink, and that was 4 years ago.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Anti-sanctions opportunism in full force

Cyclone Nargis has been cynically seized upon by the anti-sanctions crowd as an opportunity to trot out their tired apologetics for the SPDC. A particularly inane example is the following from Michael Backman (self-described 'internationally-renowned author'!) in The Age (Melbourne) on 21st May:

We have approached The Age with a response - at this stage we are still waiting to see if they will publish.

Meanwhile, our response is here: