News in Brief: Release of House-Bound Burma Opposition Leader Anticipated, and More ...

Release of House-Bound Burma Opposition Leader Anticipated

Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning democracy leader who has been held under house arrest in Myanmar, also known as Burma, for 15 of the last 21 years may be nearing release. Under limits set in August by the leader of the military junta that controls the small southeast Asian country, her latest term of detention is set to expire Saturday. Amid rumors of her imminent release, pro-democracy supporters gathered near her home in anticipation, though the reports are unconfirmed, reported The New York Times.
Clinton Avoids Mention of Settlement Building at US-Israel Talks

In a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton avoided mentioning Israel’s announcement just days before the talk with Clinton to build more than 1,000 settlement homes in occupied East Jerusalem, reported Democracy Now!. Clinton and Netanyahu met Thursday in an Obama administration bid to revive stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The politicians reportedly discussed US incentives for Israel to renew a partial settlement freeze, which included the offer of military equipment to Israel and a pledge to veto UN resolutions on Arab-Israeli peace for at least a year.

Nordic Countries Investigate Alleged U.S. Spying

A recent report on Norwegian TV alleges that personnel at the American Embassy in Oslo illegally spied on Europeans outside its embassy during a protest, and entered their names into a counterterrorism database. The report has led Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Iceland to investigate allegations “that US embassies conducted surveillance inside the countries without permission from state authorities,” reported the BBC. In response, the State Department admitted that it runs a “counter-surveillance program in response to security threats to its embassies,” but insists that the program is legal.

Rep. John Shimkus Not Worried About Climate Change Because of God's Promise to Noah

John Shimkus, the Illinois Republican in the House who hopes to be the next chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said that he is not worried about global warming because of a promise made to Noah by God about 6,000 years ago. “I do believe in the Bible as the final word of God,” Shimkus told Politico, “and I do believe that God said the Earth would not be destroyed by a flood.” Shimkus is competing against three other Republicans for the top spot on the energy committee, and Politico predicts that if he doesn’t get the chairmanship he could still be named chairman of a subcommittee.

Sunni Walkout Threatens Iraq's Governing Agreement

The fragile political agreement between Iraq’s governing parties to return prime minister Nuri al-Maliki to power is in danger of unraveling as the largely Sunni Iraqiya bloc walked out of Parliament Thursday, alleging that their opponents had broken promises. The parliamentary vote went ahead without them, but observers fear that without the Sunni presence, the vote “could cause a national crisis.” Iraq’s recent elections were marred by a dispute about whether al-Maliki or his Sunni rivals won the most seats in Iraq’s March election. Sunni’s are the minority in Iraq, but were the leading religious group under Saddam Hussein, reported The Washington Post.

Pilots' Union Encourages Opting-Out of Invasive Full-Body Scan

Two of the country’s largest pilots unions are advising their members to avoid the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) full-body scanners and instead opt for pat-downs. Union leaders say they are concerned that the repeated exposure to radiation could be harmful, and that the scans are invasive – one TSA agent dubbed the scanner “the dick-measuring device,” reported USA Today. “Our members are just absolutely outraged,” the president of the US Airline Pilots Association said.

North Korea's nuclear chief arrested for 'passing secrets to a foreign power'

The head of North Korea's nuclear and missile development programmes has reportedly been arrested on charges of passing state secrets to a foreign intelligence agency.

North Korea's nuclear chief arrested for 'passing secrets to a foreign power'

Kim So-In, who was identified as a mathematical genius as a boy and taken under the wing of Kim Jong-Il, was arrested with his family in May and taken to the notorious Yodok concentration camp, according to South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper.

Kim So-In is accused of assisting his father, Kim Song-Il, a researcher at the Yongbyon Nuclear Complex, to pass top secret documents detailing North Korea's progress in developing nuclear technology to a foreign power.

The round-up is likely to have included Kim's mother and younger brother, who are also respected nuclear scientists.

Identified as a special talent at the age of 7, Kim was fast-tracked into the Bungang High School and, after the intervention of Kim Jong-Il, was sent abroad to study nuclear physics at the age of 13. Given a personal tutor at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang, he received his master's degree at the age of 19 and a doctorate at 21, according to a defector from the North who worked under him.

Kim was one of a nucleus of around 20 scientists who received the best education and lifestyles that North Korea could provide and in return were expected to develop new weapons for the regime. Kim, who was considered the most senior in the group, was required to give regular progress reports directly to Kim Jong-Il.

Kim Jong-un, who was unveiled in September as the heir to his father's position as head of state, has been credited with unmasking the scientist as a traitor.

UN refugee agency signals more fighting in Myanmar

The UN refugee agency said on Friday that most of the 15,000 people who fled from Myanmar earlier this week have returned from Thailand despite renewed post-election fighting near the border.

UN refugee agency signals more fighting in Myanmar

UN refugee agency signals more fighting in Myanmar

A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Adrian Edwards said fighting reportedly erupted again overnight after the Thai army cleared their return, with the potential for more clashes around the Myanmar villages of Maekata and Halokani.

"As of today most of the 15,000 Myanmar refugees who fled into Thailand earlier this week have returned across the border," Edwards told journalists.

Sites in northern Thailand's Tak province emptied by Wednesday while all 3,000 refugees further south in Sanghklaburi had disappeared by early Friday, he added.

"In the light of the confused situation and the risks to safety, UNHCR is advocating with the Royal Thai government that refugees be given further time before being encouraged to return home," Edwards said.

UN human rights experts on Friday expressed concern about the impact of the earlier fighting and reiterated calls for the release of "over 2,200 prisoners of conscience" including jailed opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

"The elections were billed as one of the final elements of the so-called seven-step roadmap to democracy," the four experts said in a joint statement.

"However, the renewed clashes and resulting humanitarian crisis as civilians fled to a neighbouring State highlight the many unresolved challenges that Myanmar faces," they added in a statement.

"True democratic transition will require genuine dialogue with all stakeholders including Aung San Suu Kyi, and the various ethnic minorities that were excluded from the electoral process."

The statement was made by the Special Rapporteurs on human rights in Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana, on the right to freedom of opinion, Frank La Rue, on human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggyawas, and the chairman of the working group on arbitrary detention, El-Hadji Malick Sow.

Suu Kyi supporters hope, pray for her freedom

Supporters of Burma's democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi gathered Saturday in anticipation of her expected release from the lakeside home that has been her prison for most of the past two decades.

Supporters of Burma's detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi hold pictures of her as they gather outside the National League for Democracy (NLD) headquarters in Rangoon. Burma's detained democracy icon could be just hours away from freedom Saturday as her many supporters wait anxiously for the end of her current term of house arrest.

Dozens waited anxiously outside her party's headquarters and her crumbling mansion, a day after hundreds had massed in the hope of a glimpse of the 65-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Many wore T-shirts bearing her image and the words: "We stand with Aung San Suu Kyi."

Although Burma's most famous dissident has been in detention for the past seven years, sidelined and silenced by the ruling generals, for many in the impoverished nation she still embodies hope of a better future.

"We are praying for her release. We are very excited," said Cho Cho, a 35-year-old housewife in Rangoon.

Suu Kyi, still seen as the biggest threat to the junta after almost five decades of military dictatorship, has been locked up for 15 of the past 21 years, but her most recent sentence is close to an end.

The authorities have said her release is imminent, even though some fear the generals may find an excuse to extend it.

"She will be released today," a Burma government official told AFP on Saturday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Suu Kyi's detention was extended last year over a bizarre incident in which an American swam uninvited to her lakeside home, keeping her off the scene for the first election in 20 years.

Around 50 journalists and locals were stationed outside Suu Kyi's home Saturday as party leaders prepared for her expected release.

"We haven't heard anything yet but we still have our hope," said one of her lawyers, Nyan Win.

Without a clear idea of when she might be released, her National League for Democracy (NLD) party could not prepare a schedule, he said.

"If she is released very late, I cannot say what we can prepare for the people," added Nyan Win, who is also the NLD's long-time spokesman.

The daughter of Burma's independence hero General Aung San swept her party to victory in elections two decades ago, but it was never allowed to take power.

When the softly-spoken but indomitable opposition leader was last released in 2002 she drew huge crowds wherever she went -- a reminder that years of detention had not dimmed her immense popularity.

Some observers believe her release could come with restrictions to ensure she cannot threaten the generals or the military-backed government to which they are preparing to hand over power.

But Nyan Win has suggested she would refuse to accept any conditions on her release, as in the past when she tried in vain to leave Rangoon in defiance of the junta's orders.

Suu Kyi's freedom is seen by observers as an effort by the regime to tame international condemnation of Sunday's election, the first since the 1990 vote.

Western nations and pro-democracy activists have criticised the poll as anything but free and fair following widespread reports of intimidation and fraud.

The NLD's decision not to participate in the election deeply split Burma's opposition and Suu Kyi's party has been disbanded, leaving her future role uncertain.

Partial election results show that the army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has already won a majority of the parliamentary seats available.

Exiled for Years, Cambodian Activist Hopes for Justice

Mu Sochua lost her parents to the Khmer Rouge, but hasn't lost her will. She will tell her story after a documentary screening on Saturday at the Seabury Center.

The Cambodia of Mu Sochua's childhood was a nation of peace. The rice paddies in the north were a verdant green. The lakes were full of fish. The beaches were unspoiled. For the first time in a century, the country was independent and free.

"I look back at that childhood as a place that was heaven," she said.

But as Sochua grew older, turmoil took over. The United States backed a coup that overthrew the head of state, who was believed to be sympathetic to the Communists despite remaining neutral. The country was bombed during the Vietnam War, and a man educated in Paris began to gain power. Soon, Saloth Sar, better known as Pol Pot, became the new leader.

He instituted genocide in a country that had known peace just a decade earlier.

In 1972, Sochua had just completed high school and her wealthy parents sent her to safety in France as Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge strengthened. The parents stayed behind.

"My parents didn't want to leave. They did not think that there would be genocide," she said. "My father always said he would live in Cambodia and he would die in Cambodia."

Like so many others, her mother and father disappeared. They were never heard from again.

Sochua bears the scars of a country that has forgotten about justice. She has dedicated her life to bringing economic, social and criminal justice to a country that barely knows the meaning of the word.

"It's a scar as if you were attacked by acid and, very sadly, some of the victims will not get out because the system is not forgiving and there are no opportunities," she said.

Bringing the Fight to Connecticut

In a house not far from Staples High School, Sochua wrapped herself in a shawl to keep warm. She arrived from Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capital that rarely sees the temperature dip below 70 degrees, the day before. She spoke of a country with a modern airport, an infrastructure of roads and two million annual tourists.

"That is what you see on the surface from the outside," the 56-year-old said. "Underneath it, for a society to be called stable, you have to look at freedom, human rights, the justice system, the role of the media and then you have to look at the government at all levels."

In those areas, she said, Cambodia has not developed.

For example, if a woman is raped, she is expected to pay an exorbitant amount of money for the case to be heard by a judge. Evidence can disappear and witness intimidation is common. Property is unlawfully seized by corrupt officials, and men often have to leave the country to find degrading work since mostly women are employed in nearby garment factories.

Sochua was a guest in the home of Roberta Cooper, of the Connecticut branch of the nationwide nonprofit Vital Voices. The organization is dedicated to helping women in developing countries.

When Sochua was elected to parliament in 1998, she was a rising political star despite the inequality women face throughout the country. She galvanized other women in the country to run for office and even landed a spot in the cabinet, one of only two women to do so. While serving in office, she saw corruption firsthand and resigned in 2004, switching to the opposition party.

All of this corruption happens even though Cambodia calls itself a democracy.

"This type of democracy – there's no shape. There's no form. There's only a name," she said.

Several times a year, Sochua leaves Cambodia to raise awareness and funds for local charities. Westport is one of her stops as she heads to a forum in New York City, to the west coast for Thanksgiving with some family members and a visit to the European Union Parliament in Brussels with former President Bill Clinton.

Last week, she met with Hillary Clinton when the secretary of state visited Cambodia. Clinton urged human rights progress and justice for the Khmer Rouge officials standing trial for their genocidal crimes.

"Countries that are held prisoner to their past can never break those chains and build the kind of future that their children deserve," Clinton said from Cambodia. "Although I am well aware the work of the tribunal is painful, it is necessary to ensure a lasting peace."


After a year in a Paris, Sochua relocated to the United States. She was able to obtain scholarships and received a psychology degree from San Francisco State University and a master's degree in social work from Berkeley.

She looked for her parents on the list of prisoners held in the notorious S-21 prison, where thousands of Cambodians were tortured and killed by the Khmer Rouge. She also talked to any refugees she could find to see if they knew what happened to her parents. All of this was to no avail.

As a refugee, she spent 18 years in exile. She married and started a family while dreaming of returning the country she left behind.

"I had to survive on my own," she said. "Because of a good education I was able to put my life together."

Finally, after several unsuccessful attempts due to passport complications, she returned home in 1989.

"I left as an innocent young woman. Hardly a woman, yet still a young child," she said. "I came back a mother of two."

Event Info

The Connecticut Council of Vital Voices Global Partnership will be screening Redlight, a documentary exposing the global issue of human trafficking on Saturday, Nov. 13 at the Seabury Center, 45 Church Lane, in Westport. A dessert reception will be held at 7:30 p.m. Guests will have an opportunity to meet Mu Sochua and director Guy Jacobson, and purchase the work of Cambodian artisans. The film will be shown at 8 p.m., followed by a question and answer period with Sochua. Tickets for the event are $100 for VIP seating and the screening; $30 for all other seats at the screening; and $15 for students. Tickets are tax-deductible.

On Nov. 14 Redlight will be shown at 4 p.m. at the Ridgefield Playhouse, 80 East Ridge Rd., Ridgefield, followed by a question and answer period with Mu Sochua. There will be an opportunity to meet Mu Sochua and filmmaker Guy Jacobson at a VIP reception beginning at 2:30 p.m. at Lounsbury House, 316 Main Street, in Ridgefield. Tax-deductible tickets for the Ridgefield event are $100 for the VIP reception and the screening; $30 for the screening only; and $15 for students.

'America's Most Wanted' investigates children sold as sex slaves in Cambodia

By Alicia Rancilio (CP) –

NEW YORK, N.Y. — John Walsh has been hunting "America's Most Wanted" fugitives since 1988. On Saturday he goes undercover in Southeast Asia to investigate the sex trafficking of Cambodian children.

Accompanied by British police officer Jim Gamble, Walsh says he was shocked by what he saw.

He and Gamble went into a bar where there were 50 to 60 girls, Walsh said.

"Within two minutes a madam came up to us and said, 'What are you looking for?' and Jim said, 'We're looking for young girls.' She brought over three or four girls that were (about) 12 or 13 years old — very, very young."

Gamble told her they wanted younger girls, Walsh said. He said the woman replied, " 'What do you want? We have 6- and 7-year-old boys and girls. I can arrange that off premises.' It was disgusting and heartbreaking."

Walsh said Western pedophiles, from the United States, United Kingdom and Germany travel east to Cambodia as international sex tourists, looking to have sex with children.

He says the show choose Cambodia because it's cheap to buy a sex slave there.

"I saw many Western men that had come there not to go to the Buddhist temples, not to come there to look at the beaches, not to do anything at all but to molest and have sex with children. It's wrong, it's illegal and it has to change," he said.

Walsh said the episode will be a "tough show to watch" but said it's important to expose the reality that children are sexually assaulted by predators — many of whom are from the United States.

So far, the show has captured 1,135 criminals in its 24 seasons.

"America's Most Wanted" airs Saturdays at 9pm ET/PT on Fox.

Cambodia's first gay town

Terry McCoy
Cambodia, gay rights
Sok Somnorb stands in the doorway of his room in Beoung Kak 2 community, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. (Vinh Dao/GlobalPost)

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Along the train tracks in one of Phnom Penh’s ubiquitous slums, the noise never stops and everything is changing. Longtime residents are fearful that they’ll soon have to move. This place isn’t safe anymore, they say. It isn’t moral anymore.

Along these same tracks, roughly 100 new residents, in search of asylum and community, have trickled in over the last several years and now lead lives of shocking desperation. Most of them only sleep during the day. Some perform acts of prostitution. Others dress as women. Almost all of them are homosexual men. And this place, Beoung Kak 2, has become a home: Cambodia’s first gay town.

But this isn’t Boystown in Chicago, nor the Castro in San Francisco. This isn’t a place where homosexuals can celebrate sexuality, individuality, love. Make no mistake: It’s a place for survival.

Every month more newcomers arrive, and as this community expands and supplants longtime residents, it represents both a burgeoning confidence among Cambodia’s gay population, as well as the difficulties that lie ahead for homosexuals here struggling for acceptance and equality.

As two worlds converge and clash in Beoung Kak 2, each seems allegoric, as though re-enacting a bigger national issue. The young, radically sexual newcomers stand juxtaposed against a traditional set of neighbors that are baffled, and sometimes frightened, by the swelling number of openly gay Khmer down the road.

“We’re scared that more [homosexuals] will keep coming here and make more terrible activities back there,” said Srey Oun, 48, who lives behind her now-defunct hair salon in Beoung Kak 2. “Everyone is scared like me. Khmer culture isn’t changing, but the people are.”

Since 2004, the number of “out” homosexuals in Phnom Penh has exploded from around 900 to approximately 10,000 today, according to nongovernmental organizations that track the city’s gay community. Other provinces have seen such staggering growth among their gay communities as well, census records show.

For years, the ever-growing number of openly gay Khmer had scattered themselves, meeting socially, but living separately, NGO workers say. Last March, however, Prime Minister Hun Sen castigated Cambodia’s reputation as a destination for sex tourism. Soon after, police shuttered brothels and karaoke bars across the capital, where many transgenders worked and lived. Destitute and homeless, some staggered to the slums of Beoung Kak 2.

“If we’re not with each other, we’re scared everyone will look down on us or beat us,” said Kong Chan Rattna, 24, amid eight fellow transgender homosexuals inside a hut stilted above a stream. “Together, we can have happiness — we can go anywhere. Nothing’s a problem.”

Cambodia’s definition of homosexuality and gender challenges Western notions. In Cambodia, there’s a third gender — frequently called “lady boys” — that falls somewhere between male and female. By all appearances and mannerisms, they’re female and identify as such though born male; most haven’t undergone any sex-change operations, they say.

Cambodia: Buddhist monks barred from water festival to prevent undignified behaviour

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Buddhist monks in Cambodia will be banned from taking part in a water festival this month to prevent undignified behaviour such as mingling with scantily clad women and seeing couples kissing, the country's chief monk said Wednesday.

During the Nov. 20-22 Boat Racing Festival monks will be required to stay in their pagodas and watch the event on TV, said 85-year-old chief patriarch Non Gneth.

"For a monk to walk freely with crowds of ordinary people during the water festival violates the rules of the Lord Buddha," the patriarch said.

"If the monks walk freely, they will see women wearing sexy clothes or see people kissing. This violates their discipline," he said. He added some younger monks carried mobile phones equipped with cameras at last year's festival and took pictures of people dancing, drinking alcohol and kissing — all of which are not allowed, including the possession of cellphones.

Monks are supposed to adhere to a code of Buddhist precepts that include celibacy and not touching or being alone with women, not drinking alcohol and leading a contemplative lifestyle without material possessions.

A committee has been created to curb bad behaviour among monks and if any are seen mingling at the festival they will be reprimanded and sent for a re-education class before being returned to their temples, Non Gneth said.

Authorities estimate upward of 2 million people could descend on the capital, Phnom Penh, for the annual boat festival, also known as the water festival, which takes place at the end of the rainy season along the Tonle Sap River.

Some 400 wooden boats will compete in rowing contests that are part of a carnival-like atmosphere that also includes evening concerts, fireworks and late-night partying.

About 85 per cent of Cambodia's 14 million people are Buddhist. The country has 4,000 Buddhist temples and more than 50,000 monks.

Cambodian monks told to behave during festival

Cambodia's monks have been warned not to mingle with the crowds at a major water festival this year, with any caught looking at girls in short skirts facing a reprimand.

Cambodian monks told to behave during festival

Cambodian monks told to behave during festival

More than two million visitors are expected to flock to the capital for the three-day festival from November 20-22 to enjoy boat races on the Tonle Sap lake, fireworks and parades.

But for the city's monks, this year's event will be a muted affair in light of the new restrictions.

"As we are monks, it is not good to walk among the crowd because we could touch other people," Phnom Penh's chief monk Non Ngeth told AFP.

Buddhist monks are highly revered in Cambodia, and they are not supposed to touch, or even look at, women.

It would "not be suitable" for monks to be seen mingling with festivalgoers along the riverfront, Non Ngeth added, especially with high-ranking officials looking on.

And if any of the monks dared to sneak a peek at girls wearing short skirts or shorts, "they will be corrected", he said.

But the monks won't have to miss out on the festivities altogether.

They will still be allowed to perform ceremonies blessing the wooden boats taking part in the races, Non Ngeth said.

The annual festival, one of Cambodia's largest, marks the reversal of the flow between the Tonle Sap and the Mekong river.

Burmese election won by military-backed party

Opposition parties concede defeat to USDP but accuse junta of fraud as Barack Obama says election was stolen

Burmese opposition parties have accused the authorities of vote-rigging. Photograph: Nyein Chan Naing/EPA

Burma's biggest military-backed party has won the country's first election in 20 years by a landslide, after a vote denounced by pro-democracy parties as rigged to preserve authoritarian rule.

Opposition parties conceded defeat but accused the military junta of fraud and said many state workers had been forced to support the army-backed Union Solidarity and Development party (USDP) in balloting ahead of Sunday's vote.

A day after the US president, Barack Obama, dismissed it as stolen, China's ministry of foreign affairs lauded the election as "peaceful and successful", illustrating the strengthening ties between energy-hungry China and its resource-rich neighbour.

As votes were counted, government soldiers cleared ethnic minority rebels from an eastern border town after two days of sporadic clashes that killed at least 10 people and saw about 17,000 civilians flee into neighbouring Thailand.

Many refugees had since returned to Burma as the military pushed back the Karen rebels, who have fought the government since Burma won independence from Britain in 1948. The fighters say the election and the military's continued dominance threaten any chance of achieving a degree of autonomy.

Stacked with recently retired generals and closely aligned with the 77-year-old paramount leader, Senior General Than Shwe, the USDP took as many as 80% of the available seats for parliament, a senior party official told Reuters.

But Khin Maung Swe, the leader of the largest opposition party, the National Democratic Force, told Reuters: "We took the lead at the beginning but the USDP later came up with so-called advance votes and that changed the results completely, so we lost."

The second-largest pro-democracy party, the Democratic Party (Burma), also conceded defeat.

"I admit defeat but it was not fair play. It was full of malpractice and fraud and we will try to expose them and tell the people," said the party leader, Thu Wai.

At least six parties have lodged complaints with the election commission, accusing the USDP of fraud – a charge that is unlikely to gain traction in a country where more than 2,100 political activists are in jail.

The vote was held with the pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in detention and her party disbanded for refusing to take part in an election it said was unfair. She had urged supporters to boycott the poll.

With the election over, the spotlight will return to the Nobel laureate, who has spent 15 of the past 21 years in detention but is due to be freed when her latest house arrest term expires on Saturday.

The US, Britain, the European Union and Japan repeated calls this week to free the 65-year-old, whose National League for Democracy beat an army-backed party by a landslide in 1990, but had the result ignored by the junta.

Burma's neighbours and partners in the Association of South-East Asian Nations had been hoping the election would end Burma's isolation and remove hurdles it poses to greater co-operation with the west.

China has built up close political and business links with Burma while the west has for years shunned its leaders and imposed sanctions over the suppression of democracy and a poor human rights record.

Russia welcomed the vote. "We see the elections as a step in the democratisation of Burma society in accordance with the political reforms taken by the country's leadership," Russia's ministry of foreign affairs said in a statement.

Could Burma's sham election bring real change?

Daniel Korski 10:59am

For the first time since 1990, Burma went to the polls. Though the final results have not been released, most regard the election as a sham meant to cement military rule, with complex election rules put in place to exclude opposition candidates as well as interference from the junta in the campaign and a ban on foreign reporting.

Senior General Than Shwe and his camouflage-clad cohorts are likely to get away with the electoral theft. Nearly all of Burma’s neighbours -– Thailand, India and China included -– are willing to ignore the regime’s failings to obtain commercial benefits.

As The Telegraph has reported, Chinese investment in Burma stands at over £5 billion; China is particularly interested in Burmese oil and gas. China also has strategic interest in its neighbour: it wants access to the Indian Ocean and has helped modernise Burmese naval facilities in return for permitting use of the Small and Great Coco Island, located 18 Kilometers from the Indian Andaman & Nicobar Islands.

India, in turn, has moved from supporting the pro-democracy forces to protecting the junta, lest China (and Pakistan) beat New Delhi to the strategic prize. At the recent East Asian meeting in Hanoi, only Indonesia and the Philippines were willing to criticise Burma’s regime.

What can Britain do in this case? Amnesty International’s Kate Allen implores the “global community” to “stand together as one and send an unambiguous message to the Burmese Government”. She lists a range of things that David Cameron should ask the Chinese to demand of the Burmese junta - like freeing all prisoners of conscience and restoring democracy. I too hope he raises Burma when in China. Keeping external pressure on Burma is key.
But I don’t see the Chinese moving on this or the need for the issue to overshadow the British visit. Britain needs to play a longer game.

Fights inside the regime are unlikely to begin until the deaths of the aging generals Than Shwe and Maung Aye who have nothing to gain by change - but this may not be true of younger military officers. Some may be willing to usher in change if they are rewarded financially and politically.

In preparation for such a moment, the international community would do well to support the many more centres of formal decision-making created in the constitution. In addition to the national parliament in Naypyidaw, there will be seven regional assemblies, seven state assemblies, five self-administered ethnically-designated zones and one self-administered ethnically-designated division. While powerless at first, some of these assemblies may slowly gain influence.

Even the newly-elected legislature may provide opportunities. Twenty-five percent of seats are reserved for military personnel, but some former military officers and even members of the regime's own party may not be quite as pliant as everyone now imagines.

Though the military will remain in charge, the truth is that Burma’s political scene is about to become much more dynamic. It is even possible, over time, that a diffusion of power between the soldiers and the civilians, and between the central government and provincial assemblies will take place and pave the way for real change.

Make no mistake, the Burmese election on Sunday was a sham and Britain is right to denounce it and should lobby China, India, Thailand and Pakistan to change their Burma policy. But new opportunities for pluralism may open up in the coming years.

Troops Regaining Control in Eastern Burma

Officials in Thailand say they have begun sending thousands of refugees back into Burma after confirming the end of three days of clashes in a Burmese border town.

Sporadic gunfire was reported earlier Tuesday from Myawaddy, the border town where ethnic Karen militiamen seized several buildings Sunday during the country's first elections in 20 years.

But Burmese authorities told news agencies they were rapidly re-establishing control and Thai officials said Tuesday afternoon they had received a green light to begin sending an estimated 20,000 refugees back to their homes.

The fighting was sparked by the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, a breakaway group from a larger Karen ethnic militia. News agencies reported between three and 10 people were killed in the clashes.

More fighting was reported Monday and Tuesday at Three Pagodas Pass, further south along the Thai-Burmese border.


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