dictator is a head of state who exercises arbitrary
authority over the lives of his citizens and who cannot
be removed from power through legal means. The worst
commit terrible human-rights abuses. The present list
draws in part on reports by global human-rights
organizations, including Human Rights Watch, Freedom
House, Reporters without Borders, and Amnesty
International. While the three worst from 2005 have
retained their places, two on last year's list (Muammar
al-Qaddafi of Libya and Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan )
have slipped out of the Top 10, not because their
conduct has improved but because other dictators have
Than Shwe, head of the SPDC since 1992, the ruling
regime in Burma , could keep his third position. In
November 2005, without warning, Than Shwe moved his
entire government from Rangoon , the capital for the
last 120 years, to Pyinmana, a remote area 245 miles
away. Civil servants were given two days' notice and are
forbidden from resigning. Burma leads the world in the
use of children as soldiers, and the regime is notorious
for using forced labour on construction projects and as
porters for the army in war zones. The long-standing
house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi, winner of the 1991
Nobel Peace Prize and Than Shwe's most feared opponent,
recently was extended for six months. Just to drive near
her heavily guarded home is to risk arrest. Burma
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busy, busy (12 January 2006)
THE generals who run Myanmar are busy men. So busy, in
fact, that for the past two years they have not found
any time to squeeze in a visit from Razali Ismail, the
UN official charged with restarting the country's
transition to democracy. On January 8th, Mr Razali
announced his resignation.
Razali is not the only man the generals are refusing to
receive. The UN's human-rights monitor for Myanmar,
Sergio Pinheiro, has not set foot in the country since
2003. Even the junta's supposed friends in the
Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) have
been cold-shouldered of late. At the group's annual
summit last month, Myanmar's prime minister agreed to
receive a delegation to be led by Malaysia, currently in
the chair at ASEAN, early this year. But now the time
has come, he and the rest of the top brass find
themselves run off their feet.
failure to accommodate either Mr Razali or ASEAN seems
particularly bad news, in that both were thought to have
won the junta's trust. It was Mr Razali who in 2002
brokered the release from house arrest of Aung San Suu
Kyi, Myanmar's Nobel-prize-winning democracy advocate,
only to see the generals confine her again the following
year. ASEAN, meanwhile, admitted Myanmar in 1997, on the
theory that engagement would yield better results than
ostracism. Yet the junta now seems as indifferent to
ASEAN's overtures as it is to criticism from America and
Razali speculated this week that the Security Council
would eventually take up the subject of Myanmar if the
junta did not appear to be co-operating with anybody
else. The council did hold an informal debate on Myanmar
late last year. But it seems unlikely that China, which
relies on Myanmar both for energy supplies and a
military base on the Indian Ocean, will allow any
serious criticism of the junta. Even if it did, the
generals would probably pay no attention. They are,
after all, already too busy ignoring everyone else. The
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summit targets Myanmar (11 December 2005)
Asian leaders opened their annual summit Monday,
grappling with myriad problems, from the Myanmar junta's
snail-paced steps towards democracy and the bird flu to
economic competition from China and India.
junta's failure to fulfill its pledge to restore
democracy and continued house arrest of pro-democracy
leader Aung San Suu Kyi has become the biggest political
challenge facing the Association of Southeast Asian
an indication that the bloc's frustrations are reaching
a boiling point, summit host Malaysian Prime Minister
Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was expected to issue a statement
urging fellow ASEAN member Myanmar to take more definite
will be an announcement by the chairman. The Malaysian
chairman will make the announcement," Philippine
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo told reporters before
joining others in the summit room in a Kuala Lumpur
was discussed informally during at a dinner Sunday night
by the leaders, including Myanmar's Prime Minister Soe
Win, on the eve of the two-day summit.
leaders are pushing for sending a regional delegation to
Myanmar to assess the progress towards democracy.
Myanmar diplomat confirmed that ASEAN has asked his
government to allow such a visit.
said everybody's welcome. No problem, but we will take
it on an individual basis on an agreed date," he
said, indicating that a joint visit by all ASEAN
countries was not possible. The diplomat did not
identify himself, as is customary for that country's
Sunday, ASEAN Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong confirmed
that ASEAN, facing the heat from trading partners U.S.
and Europe, is putting more pressure on Myanmar.
summit will also discuss the growing economic might of
China and India, which have replaced Southeast Asia,
once known as Tiger economies, as the choice destination
for foreign investments.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien-Loong said in a speech Sunday
that although ASEAN was bringing down trade barriers and
unifying markets among its 10 economies, things must
move quicker for the grouping to be a player alongside
China and India.
these two economic powerhouses will shift the center of
gravity of the world economy toward Asia," Lee
said. "In order to stay in the game, ASEAN must
therefore take decisive action," Lee told business
summit will be followed by an inaugural East Asia Summit
on Wednesday when its 16 members are expected to pledge
a raft of steps to prevent a possible human pandemic of
bird flu that has killed 69 people in Asia since 2003. Associated
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government on the move to a half-built capital (11
precisely 6:37 a.m. on Sunday, according to one report -
with a shout of "Let's go!" - a convoy of
trucks began a huge, expensive and baffling transfer of
the government of Myanmar from the capital, Yangon, to a
secret mountain compound 320 kilometers to the north.
and foreign analysts were left groping for an
explanation, and in a country as secretive and eccentric
as Myanmar, the leading theories had to do with
astrological predictions and fears of invasion by the
relocation, which was later announced to reporters and
foreign diplomats but has not yet been announced to the
public, had been rumored for years. But according to
reports from Yangon, officials and civil servants were
given only a day or two to pack and say goodbye to their
they arrived at the new site, called Pyinmana, they
found it still under construction, with shortages of
water, telephone lines and even sleeping quarters and
food, according to family members quoted by news
services and exile groups.
diplomats said they had been told that if they had
urgent business with the relocated government, they
could send a fax but that no number was yet available.
to various unofficial reports, the vast, fortified
compound is to contain military headquarters, government
ministries, huge meeting halls, residences, hotels, a
hospital, an airport, underground bunkers and, not
surprisingly, a golf course.
military junta that runs the country, formerly known as
Burma, offered little explanation for its mystery move.
to changed circumstances, where Myanmar is trying to
develop a modern nation, a more centrally located
government seat has become a necessity," it said in
left plenty of room for theories, and it was difficult
to find one that seemed rational. Astrology seemed to
make as much sense as anything.
is a deeply superstitious nation that held its
independence ceremony from the British, following
astrological dictates, at exactly 4:20 a.m. on Jan. 4,
to Aung Zaw, the editor of Irrawaddy Magazine, a
Thailand-based ï¿½migrï¿½ publication with a network of
contacts inside the country, huge convoys of
Chinese-built trucks began their journey at exactly 6:37
a.m., a strangely precise moment that may well have been
dictated by astrologers.
timing may also have been behind the abruptness of the
move to a site that was not yet complete.
theory is that the entire move follows a warning by
astrologers several years ago that the dilapidated
capital on the Bay of Bengal would become a dangerous
place for the ruling generals.
from their perspective, the notion of an American
invasion might not seem far-fetched.
is a ruling clique of soldiers whose background is
jungle warfare and who know little of the outside world.
years they have been squeezed by economic sanctions and
battered by relentless criticism from the West over
their human rights abuses, and they have responded by
pulling farther into their shells.
January, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice of the
United States included Myanmar in a list of
"outposts of tyranny," along with North Korea,
Cuba, Iran, Zimbabwe and Belarus.
in Myanmar sometimes offer visitors a list of their own:
Panama, Grenada, Somalia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq -
all countries where the United States has sent armed
long ago, according to one story, an officer was asked
the purpose of obligatory civil defense training for
are the holding action against the Americans until the
Chinese come to our aid," the officer said,
according to David Steinberg, a professor at Georgetown
University in Washington who is a leading expert on
said wishful thinking about an American
"rescue" was also current among opponents of
joke going around is, 'After diamonds, gold,"' he
said. In the Burmese language, "sein" is
diamonds - as in Saddam Hussein. "Shwe" is
gold - as in General Than Shwe, the leader of the junta.
was no way to know whether there was a connection last
week when the authorities in the capital reopened a road
that passes by the entrance to the U.S. Embassy.
wire and concrete security barriers were removed for the
first time since they were put in place after the
attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
we are reviewing our security arrangements," an
unnamed U.S. Embassy official told Reuters. "We
felt a lot safer with them in place."
of Information Kyaw Hsan told reporters in Yangon that
the transfer of government had begun with nine of the 32
ministries but he gave no date for the projected
completion of the move.
the moment there appear to be no schools and little
family housing at Pyinmana. The transfer is likely to
separate civil servants from their families as well as
from the second jobs that many found necessary to make
ends meet in the country's minimal economy.
junta's physical move into a fortified retreat reflects
what many analysts say is a bunker mentality in the face
of what may seem like a bewildering and antagonistic
keep hearing the same thing all the time,"
Steinberg said "Look, we don't need you guys. We
can go it alone. We've done it before, and so what's
new?" International Herald Tribune
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