Burma. The long-standing wars between the Burmese army
and ethnic minorities gained renewed attention as ten rebels
from the Karen people occupied a hospital in Thailand for a
day in January. 700 people were held hostage, while the
rebels appealed to the outside world to intervene against
the Burmese army warfare. All the rebels were killed when
Thai soldiers stormed the hospital.
COUNTRYAAH, reports of army massacres on minority people continued to
flow. Save the Children stated that the army has forced at
least 50,000 children into the war against minority groups.
The UN agency ILO (International Labor Organization)
reported that about 800,000 Burmese are being held in forced
labor in both civilian and military infrastructure projects.
The Burmese authorities rejected both charges, claiming it
was voluntary, patriotic work. To the extent that there were
children in the army, it was because they were lying about
their age, the military said.
The confrontation between the military regime and the
opposition continued. Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and
14 of her party mates in the National League for Democracy
(NLD) sat locked in their cars in August for nine days on
the outskirts of the capital, Rangoon, since the military
prevented them from attending a party meeting. After forcing
them back to the city, the junta let raids in the party
headquarters, seized documents and turned off the telephone
lines. For almost two weeks, the NLD leaders were held under
house arrest. Then freedom was short. Just days after Aung
San Suu Kyi regained her freedom of movement, she was
prevented from boarding a train to Mandalay and was again
placed under house arrest.
In August, Rolls-Royce and Lloyd's, as well as 37 other
multinational groups, launched an international campaign
against the "black list" of groups that help fund the
military government of Myanmar. The list contains 95 groups
that directly or indirectly maintain the dictatorship in
In October, Khin Nyunt resigned from the Prime Minister's
post for health reasons. He was followed by Soe Win.
December 26, a tsunami hit Southeast Asia. In Myanmar,
the tidal wave cost approx. 50 people killed and a dozen
disappeared. Most deaths occurred in villages in the
Irriwaddy River delta southwest of Rangoon. Humanitarian
organizations feared the figure was far greater, as the
government has never previously published accurate
information from natural disasters.
In March 2005, the ILO estimated that there were around
800,000 forced laborers in the country and therefore called
for international sanctions. The ILO called on governments,
employers, workers and international organizations to review
their relations with Myanmar and to take the necessary steps
to sanction the regime for its labor rights violations. The
month before, the military junta chief, General Than Shwe,
had refused to meet with a senior ILO delegation to visit
International representatives urged the junta to curb the
military's use of forced labor, to conduct a public campaign
against this practice and to commit itself to abolishing
this practice. Responding to the demands of the ILO, the
Myanmar government declared that the country had met the
requirements to the extent possible, and once again
regretted that the ILO had been used as a tool by powerful
and influential forces to exert pressure on Myanmar. The
junta had already in 2000 passed a law prohibiting forced
labor, and had made an agreement with the ILO on the
formulation of labor law reforms. But violations of the
international labor conventions have continued, and the main
use of forced labor remains the 400,000-man army that
dominates most of the country's sectors.
In July 2005, ASEAN decided not to leave the chair of the
Association to Myanmar in 2006.
In April 2007, General Thein Sein was inaugurated as
interim prime minister, while Soe Win was in medical
treatment. When Win died in October 2007, the appointment
In May 2007, the military dictatorship extended Aung San
Suu Kyi's house arrest by another year. In Myanmar, house
arrest decisions need to be reviewed every 12 months, so the
extension was expected. Yet the extension led to criticism
from political leaders around the world and from the UN.
The opposition held a demonstration against the
dictatorship on 15 August. The board severely cracked down
on the demonstration, arresting its leaders and subsequently
preventing the International Red Cross from visiting those
arrested. As a result, Myanmar's Buddhist monks began to
secretly organize themselves. They conducted the first
demonstrations against the dictatorship in mid-September,
and the demonstrations quickly spread to the rest of the
country. The monks' activities immediately became the
greatest threat to the dictatorship as the country's
Buddhist population fully supported the monks. In late
September, the regime banned all reports of the
demonstrations, cut off the internet connection abroad and
cracked down on the monks' demonstrations. It is unknown how
many monks were arrested, wounded or killed,
The regime announced in February 2008 that a referendum
would be held on a new constitution in May 2008 and
elections in 2010. The referendum was conducted in 2 rounds
in May and approved with 93% the transition to democracy.
Myanmar was hit on May 2, 2008 by Hurricane Nargis, which
caused widespread devastation in the Irriwaddy Delta.
Between 75,000 and hundreds of thousands were killed. Indian
meteorologists warned Myanmar's authorities on May 1 of the
hurricane's arrival, but either the warning was ignored or
the authorities failed to initiate evacuation of the most
vulnerable. The country subsequently asked for international
disaster relief, but problems immediately emerged as the
regime itself wanted to distribute the relief, while the
international organizations wanted to provide the
distribution. Danish Minister of War Anders Fogh Rasmussen
threatened to invade Myanmar to distribute relief. Opinions
the international community shook their heads. Myanmar
allowed ASEAN countries to participate in the distribution
of relief aid to the victims of the hurricane in mid-May.
Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest was due in May, but was
extended by the regime in August for another 18 months.