01/11/2010, 00.00
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Yangon: death sentences to eliminate the regime's opponents

by Tint Swe
The notion of "state" has replaced that of "the People" as ordinary Burmese continue to be enslaved by the dictatorship. The ruling junta spends less than 3 per cent in health care, with the military taking the lion share (40 per cent) of the rest. Generals prepare the ground for this year's phony elections with the assistance of China, Russia, North Korea and India.
New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Myanmar's military dictatorship has sentenced two government officials to death for leaking "confidential" state secrets about two state visits to North Korea and Russia as well as "military secrets" regarding underground tunnels built around the new capital Naypyiday with North Korean help.

AsiaNews contacted Tint Swe, a member of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), for information about the two officials. The NCGUB is made of refugees from Myanmar who fled after the 1990 elections won by the National League for Democracy were not recognised by the junta. Tint Swe left for India in 1990 and has lived in New Delhi since 21 December 1991. He has been a member of the NCGUB since then and has acted as its information point man for South Asia and East Timor.

Almost every day, there are news about people who defy the junta. Last Friday, three more were added to the list. All three are guilty of leaking state secrets.

The military likes the term "state" nowadays, which stands for the regime itself. When public works are done, the state's role is emphasised. For example, when public funds are spent to build a school, it is treated a "gift" by the state. The same is true for foreign aid, which are handled, manipulated, siphoned off or misused by the state whilst the Burmese population has no say in the matter.

The junta's Official Development Assistance (ODA) programme has come in for criticism by the opposition for the same reason. The same is true for humanitarian aid that arrived after cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar on 2 May 2008, leaving a trail of death (almost 150,000 people) and destruction. Credit and funding ended up in the hands of the regime's strongman, Generalissimo Than Shwe.

Twenty years ago, the underlying idea of Burmese socialism was "the People", and this for 26 years. Everywhere, billboards displayed the word "the People". However, in 1987 Myanmar joined the ranks of the Least Developed Countries thanks to the chairman of the Burma Socialist Programme Party. The country's generals have routinely used euphemisms for the past 48 years.

Now officials have been sentenced to death for leaking state secrets. What secrets? What would be the consequences if they are revealed to the press and the public?

Obviously, the information is about official visits to three foreign countries: North Korea, Russia and India. All three and China are strong supporters of the regime. Thus the Burmese people can see what deals its rulers have reached with these three countries.

North Korea has supplied the regime with technology to build secret tunnels around the capital, Naypyidaw. North Korea's ruler Kim Jong-il has also provided nuclear technology. Photos of construction are available online. North Korean ships are in the Indian Ocean and Burmese waters.  

Russia has also pledged nuclear and military hardware. Moscow has signed a deal worth € 400 million (US$ 580 million) to supply Myanmar with 20 Mig-29 fighter planes on Christmas Eve, this in a country where health care represents 3 per cent of government spending as opposed to 40 per cent going to the military.

What about India? A seven-member delegation led by APJ Abdul Kalam said that India would provide Myanmar with US$ 90 million, plus a 10$ million loan, for the Kaladan project, 7$ million for a cyber optical link, US$ 1.3 million to upgrade a satellite ground station in Yangon, set up a ICT park in Mandalay, US$ 3 million for on-board training to 50 public officials and 20 PhD students and upgrade science labs in Yangon and Mandalay universities as well as build an entrepreneurial development centre, and more.

India is also providing Myanmar with the political backing it promised on 6 March 2006 at the United Nations, the International labour Organisation (ILO), and the United Nations High Council (UNHRC). India has voted in favour of Myanmar in all three institutions.

News about death sentences have come from both China and Myanmar, starting in both cases in July of last year and involving people opposed to those in power.

In Myanmar, a journalist with the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) was sentenced to 20 years in prison, which is tantamount to a death sentence.

The Burmese sentenced to death are current or retired government officials; two are army officers. This goes to show that there are elements in the military and the government who continue to oppose the country's rulers.

Undoubtedly, there are many courageous people in the public service. A personal aide to Lieutenant General Tin Oo, the junta's number 3 man, was one of them. He died in a mysterious helicopter accident in February 2001. No one was tried for that killing.

The sad news about the death sentences follows the announcement that salaries will increase at the end of January of this year. It appears that the regime is preparing the ground for the upcoming presidential elections. The message to the people is clear. You can choose either better pay and voting for them (the generals), or 20 years in jail or the death penalty.

(Nirmala Carvalho contributed to this article)

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