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31 May 2003
No. 140

In this issue:
    Where are the Weapons of Mass Destruction?
  2. NEWS in Brief
    China - China meets Dalai Lama's envoys
    Thailand - Green light for disputed Thai-Malaysian pipeline
    Malaysia - Tian's Statement to ISA Review Board
    Burma - Razali to kick-start stalled talks in Burma
             - United effort will force change in Burma
    Singapore - Bush signs Singapore trade pact
    India - India woos Burma with weapons deal
    Iraq - Iraq in danger of starvation, says UN
          - Transition to an empire
  3. Urgent APPEALS
    Malaysia - Arbitrary Detention Without Trial
    Calling for Volunteers
    Vacancy at ISIS International


1. FEATURE - top

Where are the Weapons of Mass Destruction?

by Alistair Millar

Before the US-British invasion of Iraq, most skeptics did not argue that Saddam Hussein's regime possessed no illicit weapons of mass destruction. Rather, the majority of the international community doubted that Iraqi non-conventional weapons capabilities posed a pressing threat to the peace. Repeatedly presented with false, dated, improperly cited and, in at least one case, plagiarized "intelligence" of the Iraqi threat, the UN Security Council refused to authorize war to enforce Resolution 1441, unanimously passed on November 8, 2002. On the streets, anti-war organizers' efforts culminated in the largest worldwide demonstrations in history. The message of anti-war dissent was clear: available evidence of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction did not constitute a case for war.

George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, his strongest ally, sought to justify the invasion of Iraq with numerous claims that the Hussein's regime sat on large volumes of chemical and biological agents which could be delivered to targets outside Iraq's borders. With the war over, as day after day goes by without evidence of these vast weapons programs, it is interesting to observe the Bush administration retreat from its pre-war positions. Unwittingly, the White House now appears to be inching toward the pre-war stance of chief UN weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei: some of the ingredients to develop chemical and biological agents may exist in Iraq, but there is no sign of deliverable weapons of mass destruction.

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who wrote a January 23, 2003 op-ed in the New York Times entitled "Why We Know Iraq Is Lying" about having destroyed its weaponized chemical and biological materials, sounded a little like the much-disparaged Blix and ElBaradei on May 1, when she was quoted saying that "you may find assembly lines, you may find pieces hidden here and there" that could be precursors to lethal agents or chemicals with dual uses. These scattered pieces, she continued, could be put together "just in time" to make the proscribed armaments. While weapons caches may still be discovered, for the time being, the chemicals and "assembly lines" have clearly acquired a second use for the Bush administration - as it attempts to lower the standard for what constitutes a weapon of mass destruction.

Believing the Hype

Before the war, the US insisted, time and time again, that these weapons existed in large numbers and posed a threat so urgent that military action was required to "disarm" the deposed dictator. In his January 2003 State of the Union speech, Bush laid out his administration's case for war with Iraq by saying that US "intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent. In such quantities, these chemical agents could also kill untold thousands." Bush also presented allegations, later refuted by the International Atomic Energy Agency, that Iraq had purchased enriched uranium ore from the African nation of Niger.

The following month, the White House sent Secretary of State Colin Powell to make its case before the still unconvinced UN Security Council. Using intercepted communications and satellite images, Powell succeeded in convincing large sectors of the American public that Iraq had the nerve agents and chemical shells it claimed not to have. Outside US borders, however, Powell succeeded mainly in raising serious questions about Washington's commitment to UN weapons monitoring and the goal of disarming Iraq. Under the terms of Resolution 1441, UN member states are required to provide full cooperation in the weapons inspection process. Much of the information in Powell's presentation had been collected before the resumption of inspections in late November 2002. If the US was in possession of evidence of Iraqi concealment or weapons activities, then its first obligation was to share that information with UN inspectors, who could ensure that the prohibited weapons were then destroyed or rendered harmless. Defenders of Washington's apparent failure to share crucial intelligence implied that Blix and ElBaradei could not be trusted with such a sensitive mission.

Even facing certain loss of power as US tanks rolled into Baghdad, the Iraqi regime did not use the chemical or biological weapons whose "grave and gathering danger" Rice, Bush and Powell had posited before the war. Presaging Rice's new take on the situation, the British government explained this fact by arguing that the regime was not able to deploy its weapons because their components had been dispersed. This argument directly contradicted London's claim before the war, featured in the heavily hyped "British dossier" of September 2002, that Iraq was capable of fielding an operational battery of weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes, and that Hussein's commanders had standing orders to fire them. In an introduction to the dossier, Blair opined: "I am in no doubt that the threat is serious and current, that [Saddam] has made progress on WMD, and that he has to be stopped.... Intelligence reports make clear that he sees the building up of his WMD capability, and the belief overseas that he would use these weapons, as vital to his three strategic interests, and in particular his goal of regional domination."

Nothing Concrete

Since the Iraq war began on March 19, US, British and allied forces have checked out over a dozen suspect sites - searching for chemical, biological and nuclear arms materials. Special operations teams, including so-called "mobile exploitation teams" composed of specialized military officers, Defense Intelligence Agency officials and CIA analysts, are trying to locate and test possible weapons materials at as many as 36 sites.

To date, the US-led "mobile exploitation teams" have provided no conclusive evidence that chemical and biological agents exist in weaponized form, though the media has done much to convince the public to the contrary. There was a brief frenzy of speculation - fueled by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and later dampened by Powell - that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction may have been moved to Syria. Embedded reporters have passed along dozens of allegations of discoveries of chemical and biological weapons. Cable news networks, in particular, have focused an inordinate amount of broadcast time on repeated images of alleged mobile labs, chemical munitions and biological weapons facilities, while often neglecting to retract their stories when corroborating evidence fails to emerge.

On April 11, for example, FOX News praised their own Rick Leventhal for witnessing the discovery of a mobile weapons lab secreted inside a larger truck resembling a surface-to-air missile support or radar vehicle. FOX ran and reran pictures of the dilapidated truck, while announcers speculated that anyone who doubted the existence of mobile labs before the war would be now proven wrong. In a second story about the discovery of high-grade weapons material, later withdrawn by the US military, FOX quoted a former Iraqi scientist saying that "the material definitely could have been planned [sic]" for use in a bomb. The reporter then added, "I think this demonstrates the failure of the UN weapons inspections, and demonstrates that our guys are going to find the weapons of mass destruction."

With no concrete evidence of Iraqi chemical or biological weapons, the White House has conceded that the Iraqi regime may have destroyed them before the war started. The US and its few allies, under increasing international pressure to prove that Iraq had such weapons, are raising further suspicion by refusing to allow UN inspectors to help in the search. The Pentagon has recruited its own inspectors, and begun negotiating contracts for weapons disposal with US companies. It plans to send around a thousand additional military personal and scientists to assist with interviews and fact-finding in the coming weeks.

Of Credibility and Corroboration

If any weapons were to be found by the US teams criss-crossing Iraq, would the international community, already very suspicious of US and British motives for the invasion, believe the news? Given the US and British track record of faulty findings before the war, there are widespread concerns that the Bush administration may manipulate evidence to redress its sagging credibility. Empty-handed after conducting site searches, US defense officials are now reported as saying that they are counting on captured Iraqis to point them in the right direction. According to the Associated Press, the US Central Command, which ran the war and is now supervising post-war Iraq, has caught "several alleged weapons scientists." Senior regime figures in US custody, like former deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz and former liaison to the UN inspectors Gen. Amir al-Saadi, are also supposed to lead Central Command to Saddam Hussein's illegal arsenals.

Are scientists likely to provide accurate information to their captors? Before the war, the White House repeatedly urged Hans Blix to conduct interviews with Iraq scientists outside Iraq in order to protect them from repression and retaliation. The Bush administration is now threatening these scientists with imprisonment, and trial that could lead to execution, if they fail to cough up useful information on where the putative weapons of mass destruction programs may be hidden.

The US-led military inspections effort ostensibly draws its rationale from the need to enforce UN disarmament resolutions, especially 687, 1284 and 1441. But the mandate of the inspections body produced by Resolution 1284, UNMOVIC, applies to all governments of Iraq, including the present "military administration" led by Central Command and retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner. The fact also remains that substantial amounts of the chemical and biological agents produced by Iraq were accounted for and destroyed by Iraq and UN inspectors during the 1990s. Given this record of accomplishment, the Security Council should retain its authority and UNMOVIC should be authorized to reenter Iraq to complete its mandate. Even British Secretary of Defense Geoff Hoon recently agreed, "it's important that there should be an independent element in verification," lest the world disbelieve the results of the Pentagon's inspections.

The UN stands at the ready to certify that the requirements of the disarmament resolutions have been met. In a letter to the UN Security Council on March 19, UNMOVIC chairman Hans Blix reminded the Council "that it has in UNMOVIC staff a unique body of international experts who owe their allegiance to the United Nations, and who are trained as inspectors in the field of weapons of mass destruction. While the International Atomic Energy Agency has a large department of skilled nuclear inspectors and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has a large staff of skilled chemical weapons inspectors, no other international organizations have trained inspectors in the field of biological weapons and missiles." IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei has recently made it clear that the IAEA "is the sole body with legal authority to verify Iraq's nuclear disarmament.... Our operation is interrupted because of hostilities. We expect to go back with full authority after the cessation of hostilities, to resume our inspection activities in Iraq." According to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, "the work of the inspectors has merely been suspended. If and when they can resume their work, they should go back to Iraq. If anything were to be found, they should go back to test it. I hope the time will come when they will be able to do that." Aside from the legal basis for the return of inspectors and the obvious role they would play by corroborating and providing independent verification of any weapons of mass destruction that may be found by the US, UN inspections are vital to future monitoring efforts.

Bush has called for economic sanctions on Iraq to be lifted quickly so the country's oil revenue can be used to finance reconstruction. The French and the Russians, with varying degrees of pique, reply that the Security Council alone has the authority to suspend sanctions on Iraq. Both nations urged that sanctions not be lifted until UN inspectors verify that Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons have been destroyed, along with the long-range missiles to deliver them. Snubbing the UN in favor of a US team may reprise the problems faced in the mid-1990s, when revelations of illegal US covert operations in Iraq helped to erode international consensus on sanctions, with France and Russia arguing for lifting the punitive measures and the US and Britain adamant that they should stay. This time, the players would exchange roles, but the cost to Iraqi civilian life would be the same.

"Bulletproof Intelligence"

But the imperatives of verifying Iraq's disarmament and lifting sanctions may be eclipsed by the prospect that failure to produce weapons in Iraq will highlight a failure of US intelligence. Before the invasion of Iraq, a BBC interviewer confronted Blix with the observation that "the British government seems pretty sure that Saddam Hussein still has chemical and biological weapons, has produced more recently and is trying to get a nuclear bomb." Blix responded, "Well, we are asked to provide facts to the Security Council and the best way of doing that is through inspections, what we see.... I read the intelligence reports, but frequently they simply state that intelligence tells us this, or intelligence shows that. Fine, it may all be true.... But simply saying that 'intelligence shows...' is not evidence."

A transcript detailing the 1995 debriefing of a senior Iraqi scientist, Hussein Kamel, by officials from the IAEA and UNSCOM was leaked to Newsweek and reprinted in early March 2003. Kamel, who was Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, told the inspectors eight years ago that he had overseen and covered up the destruction of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons programs. The claim was corroborated by a military aide who defected with Kamel. Newsweek reported that the CIA and its British equivalent MI6 were subsequently informed of the debriefing. As specialized military units working with intelligence officers come up empty in post-war Iraq, it is increasingly apparent that the intelligence community did not have the actionable information - the "bulletproof" evidence - that the White House continually cited while making its case for a preemptive strike. According to Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, quoted in Newsday on April 28, "You either have the data or you don't. That's the problem here, that we don't really have the data.... At a minimum, the situation raises questions about both the quality of US intelligence on Iraqi weapons and the assertions of administration officials in the runup to the war."

During 12 years of sanctions on Iraq, the US and Britain blocked billions of dollars in Iraqi purchase orders on the grounds that the sought-after goods could have "dual uses," one entirely innocent and the other military. Today, it appears that the most obvious evidence of dual-use material can be found in US and British arguments attempting to justify the invasion of Iraq.

** Alistair Millar is vice president and director of the Washington office of the Fourth Freedom Forum.

[Source: Tikkun 7.5.03]


2. NEWS in Brief - top


China meets Dalai Lama's envoys

Secret negotiations between China and the Dalai Lama are due to resume after the arrival in Beijing of two senior envoys of the Tibetan spiritual leader.

Lodi Gyari and Kelsang Gyaltsen are due to meet officials later this week with a secret message from the Dalai Lama, and there is speculation that he will soon return to Tibet after nearly 50 years' exile.

They are also likely to travel to Tibet. Their visit to China last September was the first formal contact between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama for 10 years.

Tibetan officials described the talks as "confidence building", and were hopeful that they would lead to "full-blown negotiations" between Beijing and Tibet's exiled government in India to establish Tibet's autonomy. The recent signs from the new Chinese president, Hu Jintao, had been encouraging, they added.

Thupten Samphel, a spokesman for the exiled government, said: "The return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet is a peripheral issue. The whole of Tibet inhabited by the Tibetan people should be given genuine autonomy... The new generation growing up under Chinese rule is still carrying the torch for Tibet."

In the past Beijing has played down the significance of its meetings with envoys from the Dalai Lama, whom it accuses of trying to split the nation. But there seems to be a new willingness to explore the renewal of formal contacts.

In recent months it has released several Tibetan political prisoners, and in recent weeks the Dalai Lama has made pro-Beijing statements which have dismayed those Tibetans who want full independence.

[Source: Guardian 28.5.03]

China and Russia look for a counterbalance

The new president of China, Hu Jintao, has joined President Vladimir Putin of Russia in a call for a "multipolar world" while condemning "the use of force", as he begins a foreign tour designed to revitalise Chinese diplomacy.

After a week in Russia Mr Hu will attend the G8 conference in France, where China has been given observer status for the first time.

The two presidents are trying to establish a better Sino-Russian understanding which will offset, if not counterbalance, the predominance of the US in the post-Iraqi-war world. They said that they stood for a multipolar, just and democratic world order" on the basis of international law.

In another thrust at US unilateralism, they called for a peaceful solution on the Korean peninsula, saying scenarios "of forceful pressure or use of force are unacceptable".

They also said that the UN should be given the "central role" in Iraq's reconstruction.

Significantly, before he left home Mr Hu called for more military modernisation of China. His senior military advisers appear to have been impressed - and shocked - by the White House's pre-emptive strategy, and now believe that China must do more to hold its own.

But Chinese diplomacy is still based on seeking good relations with the US, at least in the medium term, and its criticism of the occupation of Iraq has been muted.

[Source: Guardian 28.5.03]



Green light for disputed Thai-Malaysian pipeline

Construction of a controversial Thai-Malaysian gas pipeline will begin despite the firestorm of protest that has plagued the project for five years.

The 225-kilometer offshore pipeline, which will carry 1 billion cubic feet of gas a day from the Gulf of Thailand to Malaysia, was initially expected to be completed by this year, but opposition by people in four of Thailand's southern provinces had stalled the project. The project, a joint venture of Malaysia's Petronas and the Petroleum Authority of Thailand (PTT), is estimated to cost US$565 million, stated a study by Thailand's Working Group for Human Rights Defenders (WGHRD). In addition to the pipeline, a two-unit gas-separation plant will be built in the Songkhla province.

The pipeline - for which joint contracts between Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur were first signed in April 1998 and then in October 1999 - is now slated to be complete by mid-2005.

The announcement to build the pipeline will only harden the people's resolve to mount a stronger struggle, said Bantorn Ondam, a sociologist working with the Assembly of the Poor, an umbrella group of grassroots movements. "There will be more tension in the south," he said. "People are discussing how to get their point across after the government ignored them."

"The local communities are opposed to the [Thai-Malaysian pipeline] project, and they will never give up their protests," said Penchom Saetang, coordinator of the Campaign for Alternative Industry Network, a non-governmental organization that champions environmental causes. "The people still want the project to be reviewed."

This opposition is reflected in the daily meetings and the 24-hour vigils the villagers have at a point along the path of the planned Thai-Malaysian pipeline, she said. "They fear their environment will be destroyed once the pipeline is built."

December revealed the intensity of this struggle when a peaceful demonstration by community activists in the southern district of Hat Yai resulted in a harsh police crackdown, in which 38 demonstrators and 15 policemen were injured.

On that occasion, the villagers had wanted to hand over a letter to Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, asking him to listen to their concerns and conduct a review of the project. "But the government is not listening to the people. From December till today, no attempt has been made to consult the people about their worries over this project," said Ananta Boonsopon, a medical doctor and community leader in Hat Yai. "This is unjust and people cannot accept it."

Local residents are worried about the impacts of the pipeline project on their livelihood as fishermen, and about inland water pollution brought by industries expected to move into the area after the pipeline is ready. The pipeline is expected to pass through 23 villages along its route, and the consequences, say activists, will affect the lives of some 10,000 people.

"The government has never told the people nor answered the questions why we need the gas pipeline," said Ananta. "They have not done an environment-impact assessment for the industries to be built."

That charge is not aimed at Thaksin only, but at the government that preceded his, a coalition under the leadership of Chuan Leekpai of the Democrat Party. "Since the days of Prime Minister Chuan, the governments have been reluctant to listen to the people," said Ananta. "And that is a violation of our constitution."

Under Thailand's 1997 constitution, the government is expected to conduct public hearings and seek the views of local communities before it embarks on development projects.

For Pornpen Khongkachonkiet of the WGHRD, this week's decision to start building the pipeline needs to be perceived from a constitutional perspective, too. "The government is clearly ignoring the people's rights recognized in the constitution," said Pornpen. "In doing so, it may create political trouble in the south. We are worried that villagers may be targeted by the government in its attempt to go after dissenters."

But this view of the political mood in southern Thailand is a far cry from what has been painted by the joint venture firm that will build the pipeline.

The communities in the southern Thai province of Songkhla have "scaled back their opposition to the project", a senior official of PTT told the English-language daily The Nation on Tuesday.

"The project is being undertaken along with our campaign to explain to local people what is going on," Prasert Boonsamphan, PTT's deputy managing director, had told the Bangkok Post on Tuesday. "We think there will be no problem with construction because the project will benefit local people."

[Source: AsiaTimes 8.5.03]


Tian's Statement to ISA Review Board

What is there for me to say?

A very good morning to all in this chamber. I wonder there is any sense of embarrassment in this panel in front of me. I have participated in the hearings of the Advisory Board from the beginning, but not because I recognise the legitimacy of this process.

After all, the Internal Security Act (ISA) is an illegitimate law; it is a piece of inhumane, unjust and unconstitutional legislation, and thus, no procedure within the ISA is legitimate. Indeed, my attendance has eventually proved that the board is just a farce.

‘Worst sin’

During my last session o要 Dec 3, 2002, I submitted that my detention was illegal based o要 the ruling of the Federal Court o要 Sept 6.

The Advisory Board acknowledged the indisputable arguments by the Federal Court and unanimously recommended that my detention in Kamunting should be terminated immediately. o要e would assume that it would have been the end of the drama o要ce the Home Minister duly accepted the recommendation and set me free.

Yet six months later, I am again called to face the same panel presided by the same chairperson, Zaki Husin. What is there for me to say? Rather, I should ask, what has the board had to say - about my case? And about its own role?

In my last presentation, I expressed my sympathy for the powerlessness of the Advisory Board. As I expected, the home minister has never respected the recommendation of the Advisory Board. Where is the dignity of this body?

It simply reaffirms that the function of this theatrical session is a way of window-dressing the draconian law.

The worst sin of those serving o要 this board is that you give an illusion of having power to decide the fate of ISA detainees, but in reality you are making a living out of deceiving the gullible and vulnerable souls of the innocent detainees.

'Invisible hands'

It would be wrong to say that I have nothing more to add o要 this matter. Truly, there are a lot more to be said. But I have no wish to further insult my honourable friends o要 the Advisory Board since their role is superfluous here.

The most powerful body in this room, it seems, is the Special Branch, represented by our friends sitting across the table o要 my left. I am thus obliged to address my speech to them, whose invisible hands are controlling the proceeding of this little sideshow.

The issue at hand now concerns more than my personal liberty - even though individual freedom is a sacred right which no power should arbitrarily violate. We are confronted with a matter of grave importance involving all citizens of the country.

The Special Branch, which has no formal existence in our legal system - not a clause in the ISA or any legislation mentions or defines the authority of the Special Branch - enjoys a power more supreme than the paramount body of the judiciary.

As we know, o要 Sept 6 last year, the Federal Court unequivocally pronounced my detention and that of Ezam Mohd Nor, Saari Sungib, Hishamudin Rais and Raja Petra Kamaruddin was mala fide and illegal.

Similarly, the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) too has unambiguously rejected the detention without trial of political activists because it infringes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Federal Constitution.

It also considers the ISA has deviated from its original purpose, and detainees under the ISA should either be freed or charged in an open court.

Nonetheless, the home minister has turned a deaf ear to the voice of all these bodies. Suhakam was established by an act of Parliament, and the commissioners were appointed by the government with the consent of the king. Yet its recommendations have been ignored.

The decision by the highest court in the country too has been ignored. It is o要ly logical to conclude that the minister’s decision o要 the arrest o要 attention of detention solely relies o要 the Special Branch’s assessment.

'Dark shadow'

For the Special Branch, security threats include any form of expressions or activity that is perceived as defying against or critical of the ruling regime. It is quite frightening to think, or rather to realise, that a troop of secret police is casting a dark shadow over our everyday life. It is amazing that these faceless and obscure functionaries have so successfully planted fear in the deep psyche of every single citizen in Malaysia.

They could seize anyone at any time without reason, inflict physical and mental torture and indefinitely imprison individuals without the need to show proof. We are not merely talking about the ISA - there are so many other laws which the Special Branch could use to silence the people.

The modus operandi of the Special Branch is to blind human conscience with fear. In a country which is supposed to be democratic, the masses cannot hold a gathering of more than four persons; academicians cannot published the findings of their research; publishers cannot print books; journalists cannot report the truth; students cannot think freely; workers cannot join a union of their choice; clerics cannot say certain prayers; opposition parties cannot speak out - virtually not a thread of our civil life is free from the tentacles of the Special Branch’s intimidation.

It is common that our judges, politicians, intellectuals, civil servants and even business people are under surveillance of the Special Branch. My interrogation officers proudly proclaimed that the Special Branch monitors the activities of prominent opposition members, NGO activists, religious and community leaders, and knows everything about their public and private life. In short, the Special Branch respects neither privacy nor basic civil rights.

The authorities should stop fooling the people that the Special Branch is a law-enforcing agency, and that it is part of the police force. In truth, the Special Branch is not under the elected government of the land, instead it is the pillar holding up the government of the day.

The government often justifies its ruthless power by asserting that the people have given it their mandate through elections. This argument is invalid as our elections cannot be considered free and fair unless voters can genuinely exercise informed choice in a safe and peaceful atmosphere.

Elections have no meaning when the Special Branch can from time to time undermine the integrity of the legal system. The Special Branch needs no authorisation from the court to suppress social dissent. It also vigorously weeds out any political alternatives before they grow into strength equal to the ruling parties.

Rise of reformasi

The rise of reformasi and the co-operation of the opposition pact has gained enormous momentum and seriously shaken the authoritarian ruler. I believe, reformasi activists are not detained for organising demonstrations, but rather because we have proven to be viable force with a growing capability to dislodge the ruling coalition through both mass mobilisation and electoral means.

Peaceful assembly, or any form of mass protest, is a legitimate right of the people that is provided in the constitution. Thus I have committed no offence by participating in or organising mass gatherings. To date, there has been no evidence of violence or social disorder caused or intended by such mobilisation.

In a practising democracy, the right to free political expression, the right to information and the right to subscribe to any ideological doctrine are intrinsic to the right to vote. Therefore the restriction of these rights with repressive laws (including the ISA) is aimed to preserve the interest of the dictator.

In the 1999 general election, BN suffered a painful blow because substantial numbers of Malay voters who have traditionally been supportive of the ruling coalition (particularly Umno) switched to the opposition. The coalition of opposition parties, Barisan Alternatif, continued to garner support among multiracial voters. Within the span of 12 months, three by-elections were held and all indicated a trend of rising popular support for BA.

The government was even more alarmed when non-Malay voters too showed signs of steady swing against the BN. The victory of the opposition Parti Keadilan in the Lunas by-election held out the possibility that many BN strongholds could fall to BA. Lunas, was a typical mixed constituency that had been the bulwark of BN for generations. o要ly a few months prior to the by-election, a BN defeat in a seat of such nature was unthinkable.

'Ocean of fear'

Our real ‘crime’ is not that we are a threat to society, or to the security of the nation. Our imprisonment is purely due to our emerging potential to dethrone the dictator. I believe the pressure from the reformasi struggle has indirectly contributed to Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s announcement of retirement. Yet our continued detention will serve to prevent the transition in the authoritarian system from being challenged by a mass movement.

The existence of the Special Branch clearly violates the principles of fair play in politics. This makes a mockery of democracy. It is misleading to say the Special Branch o要ly impartially executes the instructions of the government; and in turn the government is elected by the people. For all intents and purposes, the Special Branch is not accountable to the government transparently and openly. The organ actually directly serves the political interest of individuals in power.

Although these personalities are nominally elected by the popular voting, the people have no real say in decision making. In a system where the ruling elite makes all policies and decisions without permitting questioning and scrutiny by the people, the rituals of voting become meaningless. Worse still, when the ruling parties themselves shun all principles of democracy and participation, there is no channel for the people to intervene. And this is the case of Mahathir’s leadership.

Mahathir (photo, left) has not allowed his post as party president to be opened for contest since the formation of Umno Baru in 1987 . Mahathir has declared his intension to relinquish his government and party position by the end of this year to Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (photo, right), who was hand-picked as his successor. Likewise, Abdullah was not elected to his post by the party’s general assembly.

Shouldn’t we, as citizens, feel frightened when we witness the supreme power to lead the nation is transferred between private hands? The ordinary people have no input into the political system. The individuals o要 top can then utilise all public institutions and state instruments to protect their power base. Meanwhile, the army of secret police is working round the clock to ensure that no contenders survive the brutally repressive political environment.

As I stand here today, I have not a single doubt that the authorities will continue to shut me up. The notorious ISA will continue to send chills into the spine of many citizens. The Special Branch, with it claws extended and with many pairs of vigilant eyes forever spying at every corner, is ready to strike at any slight movement that can be construed as a threat to the ruling power.

When this dark force prevails over the whole nation, terror seizes the soul of the general populace and prevents people from acting with conscience. At last, righteousness drowns in the deep ocean of fear.

Democracy too, is slowly suffocating to death.

**TIAN CHUA is vice-president of Keadilan. He was arrested under the Internal Security Act - which allows detention without trial - on April 10, 2001. The speech above was presented to the ISA’s review board panel o要 May 8 , 2003, as the two-year detention order is to expire on 1st June 2003.

[Source: MalaysiaKini 19.5.03]



Razali to kick-start stalled talks in Burma

United Nations special envoy for Burma Razali Ismail has been given the green light to make a five-day visit to Burma next month to again push for talks between the military government and the opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

According to a BBC report, the envoy is expected to arrive in Rangoon on June 6 for what is to be his 10th visit to Burma.

When contacted, a source close to Razali said the envoy will meet with Aung San Suu Kyi and several high-ranking officials although it is uncertain if his visit would include a meeting with Burmese Prime Minister Than Shwe.

Razali’s visit is likely to come as a relief to Burma watchers as little progress has been made in the reconciliation process since the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest last May.

Although the military government released over 20 political prisoners earlier this month, few attempts had been made by the junta to start a dialogue with opposition parties so as to negotiate for an eventual transition to civilian rule.

In previous interviews, Razali had expressed frustration over the slow pace of the progress while Aung San Suu Kyi too has criticised the junta for its refusal to start serious talks.

No Asean support

Meanwhile, an observer of Southeast Asian politics, Dr Chandran Jeshurun said Razali’s efforts could well have met with limited successes because of a lack of open support by Asean governments. "Mr Razali has expressed disappointment over the little backing he has received from Asean governments. Most governments are willing to leave things as they are as long as there is a strong government in Rangoon," he noted.

Chandran pointed out that the interest of some of the key supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi had also waned in the light of recent developments such as the Iraq war. The United States government is not as supportive as it used to be because Burma is not an urgent problem for them. It is a gloomy picture for Burma now, especially with the economic problems. The worse that can happen to the country has already happened.

Few concessions

Chandran also expressed pessimism over the Rangoon government’s readiness for the talks, judging from the few concessions made thus far. "When Mr Razali visits, he meets the generals only for 10 minutes. They don’t seem to take him seriously. How much can one achieve in such a short time? He cannot go on like this indefinitely."

"The Burmese government may release a few political prisoners here and there but that is not the point. The point of the visits is to push for a dialogue to start so that they can work out the shape of a national convention and put in place a time frame for it to be set up," he said.

He suggested that a way forward would perhaps be for the international community to reduce sanctions with the achievement of particular milestones in the talks facilitated by Razali. "It is clear that the Burmese economy cannot survive without aid. There should be link between this and (the political process). Perhaps the (international community) could consider easing sanctions if some charted progress is made in the talks," he said.

[MalaysiaKini 14.5.03]

United effort will force change in Burma

The political reforms the release from house arrest of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi pointed to a year ago are no closer. The Nobel Peace Prize winner can move freely about the country, but the people of Myamar are no nearer to having the freedom to choose their leaders.

More than two and a half years of United Nations mediation aimed at ushering in democracy has not lessened the military's grip on power. The junta and Aung San Suu Kyi are not talking and 1,100 members of her National League for Democracy remain in prison.

The political party won elections in 1990, but the military refused to let it govern. Its members and those of other opposition groups have since been subjected to intimidation, imprisonment, house arrest and torture.

Aung San Suu Kyi has endured through diplomacy and tact. On April 23, though, she expressed her frustration at the lack of progress to diplomats and journalists in Yangon.

The military responded in the way it always has to criticism made under the glare of the international spotlight - by releasing a batch of political prisoners and in subsequent days quietly rounding up almost as many.

Burma's people have been denied democracy, but they are also suffering through the junta's misrule. Poverty, already rife, is rising; the economy is in tatters, as evidenced by the recent collapse of the banking system; rates of HIV/Aids and malaria, already at levels among the highest in Asia, are worsening. Regional and international security is threatened from a flood of drugs.

In an effort to hasten change, the European Union and the United States have imposed economic sanctions and are being pressured to harden the measures. The impact is limited because of a refusal by Burma's neighbours to participate.

The junta's leader, Than Shwe, has thumbed his nose at the criticism. Three months ago he promoted loyal supporter Soe Win to the third most senior position in the regime, two weeks after he had declared it had no plans to talk to the National League for Democracy.

General Than Shwe is trying to buy time to stave off the international community, which is losing patience. Last week, US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who said Burma's rulers as "despotic", although it would be a difficult task to "crack" their will.

Aung San Suu Kyi marked the anniversary of her release yesterday by using her freedom to travel to visit supporters in the country's north.

Any other freedoms for her and Burma's people rests with the international community.

Through a more united approach and tougher economic and diplomatic measures, the world can force change.

[Source: SCMP 7.05.03]




Bush signs Singapore trade pact

President Bush has signed a free trade agreement with Singapore, his first since Congress granted him trade promotion authority last summer and the largest since the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong of Singapore joined the president for a signing ceremony at the White House in a display of what Franklin L. Lavin, the ambassador to Singapore, said was the administration's policy, after the war in Iraq, of "working with friends."

Indeed, Mr. Bush brought a sizable contingent of cabinet members and senior advisers to the ceremony, including Colin L. Powell, the secretary of state; Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser; Donald L. Evans, the commerce secretary; and Robert B. Zoellick, the United States trade representative.

Unspoken was the second part of the policy - to punish those nations that did not support the United States in the war. Chile had expected to be the first country to sign such an agreement after completing negotiations in December, a full month before Singapore completed its agreement. But Chile lost that honor by refusing to support the United States in its call for war at the United Nations Security Council, where Chile is a member, senior administration officials said.

"You know, people are disappointed," Mr. Zoellick said at an earlier news conference. "I'm disappointed. We worked very closely with our Chilean partners. We hoped for their support in a time that we felt was very important."

At the ceremony, the president did offer hope, promising, "We're finalizing our pact with Chile."

In several statements regarding trade pacts, administration officials made it clear there was nothing subtle about the policy.

When the president announced the signing ceremony, from Camp Lejeune, N.C., during the war, he praised Singapore not for its economic strength and global trading strategy but for being "a strong partner in the war on terrorism and a member of the coalition on Iraq."

At the ceremony, he praised Mr. Goh for "working together to meet the threats of a new era" and for offering to send police and health workers to aid in rebuilding Iraq. "I'm grateful, as well, for your commitment to a world that trades in freedom," he said. "We take great pride in the strong relationship between our countries."

The agreement is subject to approval by the Senate, although Mr. Bush's trade promotion authority means Congress can only approve or reject its language, not alter it.

For Singapore, the agreement helps secure its position as a leading financial and trading nation in the region, and it is especially welcome as Singapore and other nations battle the epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome.

Officials said they also believed the agreement represented an end to the Asian financial crisis of 1997 and 1998, which had raised huge questions about the East Asian economic miracle and sent investors fleeing Southeast Asia.

Although a small city-state, Singapore is the 12th-largest trading partner of the United States, with trade volume of $33.4 billion last year.

Mr. Goh said today that the agreement was a milestone in U.S.-Singapore relations. "The U.S.-Singapore F.T.A. is also the beginning of a trans-Pacific bridge between the U.S. and East Asia," he said. "I believe that it will catalyze greater trade liberalization in East Asia."

Described as the "gold standard" for free trade agreements, the pact guarantees that all American exports to Singapore will face zero tariffs immediately. Tariffs on imports from Singapore will largely disappear, with a small number being phased out within eight years. The agreement also provides protections for intellectual property, workers' rights and the environment.

The one complication in the agreement was controlling foreign currency flows, an issue that Singapore, like many other Asian nations, believed was critical to avoiding a repeat of the financial crisis. Singapore won a compromise that allows it to impose restrictions on foreign capital flows in a crisis.

Most important, said Nao Matsukata, the former director of policy and planning for Mr. Zoellick, the agreement gives the United States a "direct link to Southeast Asia, where we don't have the strongest economic ties."

[Source: NYT:7.5.03]



India woos Burma with weapons deal

India is exporting arms to Burma for the first time - cementing New Delhi's growing ties with the military junta which it once shunned for its terrible human rights record. The Defence Ministry has confirmed the sale of 80 howitzers to the Burma military, but refused to divulge prices or the terms of payment.

"The arms exports reveal that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's government has pulled out all stops to befriend the military dictatorship in order to counter Chinese influence in Burma and Southeast Asia," said retired Lieutenant-Colonel J. K. Dutt, strategic affairs and international relations expert at Calcutta's Jadavpur University. This arms deal marked the beginning of a new phase in India-Burma relations.

Ironically, Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes is seen as a personal friend of Burma opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. His official residence in New Delhi is a meeting point for activists of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy living in exile in India. He is believed to have opposed the deal but gave in under pressure from the Prime Minister's Office and Foreign Ministry.

Colonel Dutt said that howitzers produced by Indian ordnance factories were suited to Burma's hilly terrain, which is strikingly similar to India's north-east bordering Burma. The guns have a high trajectory which can clear hilltops and low mountains. According to a source, the arms consignment was despatched overland in Indian army trucks from the Eastern Command's 33rd Corps headquarters at Binaguri in Bengal.

Until now, China was the main weapons supplier to the Burmese military. The junta has a very favourable purchase agreement with China for buying tanks, armoured personnel carriers, rocket launchers, missiles, fighter planes, ships and submarines. Analysts say the ruling junta's 500,000-strong army is far too big considering that the economy is in a shambles and Burma has no external enemies to contend with.

India claims it is wooing the generals because it needs Burma's help to fight insurgent groups in the northeast and smash drug cartels. "But India's real worry is Burma's military ties with China, which it is desperately trying to weaken by supplying arms to the generals," Colonel Dutt said.

[Source: SCMP 24.5.03]



Iraq in danger of starvation, says UN

Iraqi agriculture is on the brink of collapse, with fears that many of its 24.5 million people will go hungry this summer, according to a confidential report being studied by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation.

A special assessment prepared by the UN agency's staff in Rome, which has been seen by The Observer, reveals a catastrophe in the making, with crops and poultry being especially hard hit.

Government warehouses that would have served as the main suppliers of seeds, fertilisers and pesticide sprays have been looted, particularly in the centre and south of the country.

Iraqi farmers should now be planting tomatoes and onions, potatoes, cucumbers, water melon, peppers, beans and squash. But without seeds, fertilisers and pesticides, that will be hard - a situation exacerbated by the collapse of the pumping stations that powered the irrigation schemes on which the vegetable crop depends.

'Vegetables and poultry are particularly important because they are the main source of protein, vitamins, minerals and a host of micro-nutrients that are missing from the oil-for-food basket which is also why malnutrition is endemic in Iraq,' said spokesman Barry Came.

Sixty per cent of the population has depended on the oil-for-food programme, instituted at the end of the 1991 Gulf war. Under the programme, Iraq received supplies of wheat, pulses and flour in exchange for oil.

In the southern and central areas, vital irrigation networks have been destroyed, a once-thriving poultry industry has been ruined and there are predictions of disease and pestilence among both plants and animals.

Enormous difficulties are anticipated in harvesting winter crops, 1.2 million tons of wheat, barley, rice and maize. Under Saddam, harvesting normally started this month, with a touring fleet of ageing combined harvesters.

Lack of spare parts had long put a strain on the harvesters available and now no mechanism exists for purchasing the yield. In previous years, the Ministry of Trade bought the crop, stored it and arranged for banks to pay farmers, who in turn used the revenues to buy the seeds for their summer vegetable crops.

But this year no seeds have been planted because, even if the farmers had money to buy them, most of the seed stock has been looted or destroyed.

Iraqi's poultry industry, source of the half of the animal protein eaten by the population, is also in dire straits. All the soybean and protein concentrate feed stored in government warehouses was stolen, along with vaccines, drugs and medicines required to keep the stock healthy.

Both the major poultry projects that once supplied Iraqi chicken farmers with layers and hatching eggs have collapsed. Thousands of birds have starved to death.

Animal health is another major concern. Most of the veterinary hospitals and clinics were looted or destroyed, and vehicles, drugs, medicines and food ingredients disappeared.

The impact could be severe in a country where disease is rife among the 18 million sheep and goats and three million cattle. Some are capable of transmission to humans, so constant control is required.

The warning came as America's efforts to get Iraq's Health Ministry up and running twisted into farce, when it emerged that the new Minister concerned was a Saddam crony.

[Source: Observer 11.5.03]


Transition to an empire


WHEN General Jay Garner landed in Iraq and arrived in bombed and looted Baghdad he declared: "This is a great day." As if his presence miraculously ended the thousand and one problems afflicting ancient Mesopotamia. What is astonishing is not the obscenity of the statement but the resignation and apathy with which the media covered the installation of the man who should really be called the proconsul of the United States. As if there were no longer international law. As if we had gone back to the days of the mandates (1). As if it were now normal for Washington to designate a retired officer of the US armed forces to govern a sovereign state.

This decision to name a senior officer to run a defeated country, without even consulting the phantom members of the "coalition", is alarmingly reminiscent of the old practices of colonialism - Clive in India, Kitchener in the Sudan and Lyautey in Morocco. To think we had imagined such abuses to have been banned for ever because of political morality and the lessons of history.

The US tells us that this is different , and that the transitional regime in Iraq should be compared to General Douglas MacArthur's regime in Japan after 1945. But that is even more alarming. It took the atomic destruction of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 - almost an apocalypse - for the US to name a general as administrator of a defeated power, at a time when the United Nations was not yet functioning.

Now the UN does exist, at least in theory (2). And the invasion of Iraq by US forces and their British auxiliaries wasn't the conclusion of a world war (unless President Bush and his entourage regard the attacks of 11 September 2001 as the equivalent of world war).

General Garner has indicated that his occupation will not be for ever. "We will be here as long as it takes. We will leave fairly rapidly". (3) But history teaches us that "as long as it takes" can be a very long time indeed. When the US invaded the Philippines and Puerto Rico in 1898 on the altruistic pretext of "liberating" them and their peoples from the Spanish colonial yoke, the US soon ended up replacing the former power. In the Philippines it put down nationalist resistance and then did not leave until 1946, and continued to interfere in the country's affairs thereafter. In each subsequent national election the US supported its preferred candidate, including the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, in power from 1965 to 1986. And the US is still occupying Puerto Rico. Even in Japan and Germany, the presence of US armed forces remains massive 58 years after the end of the second world war.

So when General Garner arrived in Baghdad with his team of 450 administrators it was hard to avoid the thought that the US, in this phase of neo-imperialism, is shouldering what Rudyard Kipling called "the white man's burden"(4). Or what the great powers saw in 1918 as their sacred mission of civilising people seen as incapable of running their lives in the difficult conditions of the modern world.

The neo-imperialism of the US revives the Roman concept of moral domination, based on the conviction that free trade, globalisation and the diffusion of Western civilisation are good for the world. But it is also a military and media domination exercised over peoples considered inferior (5).

After the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's appalling dictatorship, the US promised that it would establish in Iraq an exemplary democracy, under the wing of the new empire, the influence of which would trigger the fall of all autocratic regimes in the region - including, we were told by James Woolsey, former director of the CIA and a confidant of Bush, those of Saudi Arabia and Egypt (6).

Is such a promise credible? Obviously not. The US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, hastened to point out that even if it was the desire of the majority of Iraqis as expressed at the ballot box, the US would not accept an Islamic regime in Iraq: "That isn't going to happen," he said (7). This is a very old law of history: empires impose their law on the vanquished. But there is also another law: those that live by empire die by it.


  1. Invented at the end of the 1914-18 war, the idea of the mandate regime replaced that of the protectorate, which US president Woodrow Wilson considered too colonialist.
  2. Even if more fanatical US hawks, such as Richard Perle, are already predicting its downfall. See Le Figaro, 11 April 2003.
  3. The Guardian, London, 21 April 2003.
  4. See Yves Lacoste, Dictionnaire de g廩politique, Flammarion, Paris, 1993.
  5. French and German opposition to the war against Iraq made it possible for this war not to be seen in Arab eyes as the expression of a "clash of civilisations".
  6. International Herald Tribune, Paris, 8 April 2003.
  7. International Herald Tribune, Paris, 26 April 2003.

[Source: LeMonde 16.5.03]


3. Urgent APPEAL - top


MALAYSIA: ISA: Arbitrary Detention Without Trial


The International Security Act (ISA), that was enacted in the 1960s, remains frequently used to arrest, and indefinitely detain without trial, human rights and opposition campaigners.

The ISA reportedly allows the authorities to arbitrarily arrest, detain incommunicado and interrogate activists, without granting them access to legal counsel or family visits for up 60 days, and without conducting a trial for a period of up to two years. This period is, however, renewable by the Minister for Home Affairs, meaning that the person can effectively be detained indefinitely without a trial. In April 2003, the National Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) recommended that the Malaysian government abolished the ISA. In June 2003, the Minister for Home Affairs will decide whether to release six political prisoners, or to extend the detention for another two-year period.

Tien CHUA and Dr Badrulamin BAHROM have been detained incommunicado at the Kamunting Detention Camp and have suffered, with other political prisoners, degrading and brutal treatment, including, for Tien CHUA, being placed in solitary confinement, and paraded naked outside his dormitory.

The two-year detention without trial of the six "Reformasi" political prisoners that are being detained under the ISA will expire in June 2003. All six prisoners were detained in April 2001, prior to a mass demonstration in support of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, who was convicted in April 2000. The six political prisoners are:

  • Tian Chua, a labour and human rights activist and Vice President of the National Justice Party.

  • Hishamudding Rais, a film director and a reform movement activist,

  • Dr. Badrulamin Bahrom, Central Committee member of National Justice Party,

  • Mohd Ezam Mohd Noor, Youth Chief of the National Justice Party,

  • Saari Sungib, Reform Movement activist, and

  • Lokman Adam, Youth Leader of the National Justice Party.

The Malaysian government has failed to produce any evidence to support the claim made two years ago that these six political prisoners had attempted to overthrow the government through militant means. The prisoners continue to be held in Kamunting Detention Camp, deprived of their right to defend themselves in court. On 06 September 2002, the Federal Court of Malaysia ruled that the detention of these prisoners was mala fide (in bad faith). The ISA advisory board adopted the same opinion, recommending that the prisoners be released.

The OMCT Case MYS 110401.12, Ill-treatment/Arbitrary detention/Fair Trial, argues for the immediate release of these prisoners. The International Secretariat of OMCT is gravely concerned about the brutal and degrading treatment of the political prisoners at Kamunting Detention Camp. OMCT calls on the Malaysian Government to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of the detainees at all time. OMCT is concerned that the detention without trial of the six political prisoners listed above may be extended, and that events at the camp may be used as an excuse to renew the detention order. OMCT calls for their immediate release. OMCT calls on the Malaysian government to abolish the ISA in accordance with the recommendations of the National Human Rights Commission.


Please write to the authorities in Malaysia urging them to:

  1. take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of the six "Reformasi" activists being detained under the ISA;

  2. order their immediate release in the absence of valid legal charges, or, if such charges exist, bring them before an impartial and competent tribunal and guarantee their procedural rights at all times;

  3. ensure that their detention period is not extended by another two years;

  4. immediately abolish the ISA;

  5. guarantee the respect of human rights and the fundamental freedoms throughout the country in accordance with national laws and international human rights standards.

Send a clear message that human rights violations, including arbitrary detention, will not be tolerated under any circumstances. Those responsible, including those in uniform who commit these crimes, should be found and brought to justice.


Dato' Seri Dr Mahathir bin Mohamad,
Prime Minister's Office,
Federal Government Administration Center,
62502 Putrajaya, Selangor,
Fax: +603 8888 3444,

Dato Abdullah Haji Ahmad Badawi,
Minister of Home Affairs & Deputy Prime Minister,
Ministry of Home Affairs (Menteri Dalam Negeri),
Aras 13, Blok D1, Parcel D,
Pusat Pentadbiran Kerajaan Persekutuan,
65202 Putrajaya, Selangor,
Fax: + 603 8886 8014,

Chairman, Human Rights Commission (SUHAKAM), Ybhg. Tan Sri Musa
Hitam Suruhanjaya Hak Asasi Manusia Malaysia,
29th Floor, Menara Tun Razak,
Jalan Raja Laut, 50350 Kuala Lumpur,
Fax: + 60 3 2612 5620,

Please also write to the embassies of Malaysia in your respective country.




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