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Feature:
• Thailand and Myanmar:
A Tale of Two Charters 

 
 
 


August 8, 2008

Singapore denies visa renewal for Myanmar activists
Myanmar remembers 8-8-88 uprising as Asean turns 41   

At least three Myanmar activists were forced to leave Singapore after authorities decided not to renew their visas in an apparent attempt to stop the group's pro-democracy work, Reuters quoted another Myanmar activist as saying.

Singapore's home ministry said in a statement that the right of a foreigner to work and stay in Singapore "is not a matter of entitlement by political demand".

"Foreigners who work or live here are expected to at least respect the law and local sensitivities in Singapore," said a spokeswoman from the Ministry of Home Affairs.

According to the Singapore immigration website, the process to renew a re-entry permit into Singapore for a permanent resident only takes 30 minutes.

Myo Myint Maung, a spokesman for the group, told Reuters on Friday that six Myanmar nationals are having trouble with their visas and three, including a student, were forced to leave Singapore recently after their various visas were not renewed.

The remaining three are Singapore permanent residents, which means they can stay in the city-state if they choose to. But they will not be allowed to re-enter Singapore should they leave as their re-entry permits have not been extended.

All six were involved in an illegal protest last year against Myanmar's ruling military junta. Though not charged, they were let off with a warning. Protests are rare in Singapore and gatherings of four or more people require police permission.

Myo said the treatment of the activists was not justified. "We are very puzzled. I cannot think of any reasonable explanation for their decision not to renew it," he said.

"It is usually a one-day process, but it has been pending for more than a month for some," Myo said. Singapore is home to around 100,000 Myanmar nationals, the pro-government Straits Times newspaper reported earlier this year.

In a related story in UK’s The Guardian newspaper, Reuters reported people in Myanmar marked exactly 20 years on Friday since the army crushed an "8-8-88" democracy uprising with the loss of an estimated 3,000 lives, although the only protests were likely to be outside the country.

After last year's large-scale fuel-price rallies, the generals in charge of the former Burma are taking no chances, with extra police and pro-government thugs stationed at strategic points and Buddhist monasteries around Yangon, the main city.

Most of the leaders of the 1988 uprising, the biggest challenge to army rule stretching back to 1962, were arrested last August at the start of the fuel-price demonstrations, and remain behind bars -- just a few of an estimated 1,100 political prisoners.

Torrential monsoon rains lashing Yangon, the former capital, were also likely to dampen the ardour of any would-be protesters.

"We are not planning any official ceremony, although some people might choose to do something in private," Nyan Win, a spokesman for the opposition National League for Democracy, said.

Outside the pariah Southeast Asian nation, however, human rights groups and activists who fled the crackdown on the 1988 protests, which rumbled on for seven months, were planning demonstrations outside Myanmar and Chinese embassies.

The latter are being targeted on what is also the opening day of the Beijing Olympic Games because of China's commercial and diplomatic ties to the generals, gate-keepers of Myanmar's plentiful reserves of natural gas and other resources.

"As the world celebrates the opening of the Beijing Olympics, people should pause to remember the atrocities in Burma 20 years ago," Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

"This anniversary is testament to the Burmese people's enduring demand for freedom and to the world's failure to end repressive military rule. And China, more than any other country, has enabled the survival of the brutal Burmese regime," she said.

Aug. 8, 1988 -- 8-8-88 -- was chosen as the focal point of the uprising because of its numerologically auspicious connotations for most Burmese people. It was also said to be a powerful foil to then military supremo Ne Win, whose lucky number was nine.

On Thursday, US President George W. Bush used a visit to neighbouring Thailand, home to more than 100,000 Myanmar refugees and more than a million migrant workers, to call again for the release of opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and highlight the 1988 bloodshed.

"The American people care deeply about the people of Burma and dream for the day the people will be free," he told dissidents and former political prisoners at an hour-long lunch.
However, Bush also heard criticism of Washington's stance towards Myanmar -- labelled an "outpost of tyranny" by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice -- for forcing the generals into the international isolation that junta supremo Than Shwe craves.

"I asked him to engage with the Burmese military," former student activist Aung Naing Oo, who fled for his life 20 years ago, told Reuters.

"It's only Than Shwe and a few other generals who want to isolate Burma, so I told him engagement was very important," he said.

Meanwhile, Chinese state-run news agency Xihua quoted the military leader Than Shwe as saying Friday said that an Asean community would benefit Myanmar citizens along with the others in Asean in sharing the fruits of peace and stability, prosperity and socio-cultural development.

Than Shwe made the remarks in his message on the occasion of the 41st anniversary Asean Day, which falls on August 8. Myanmar joined the Asean along with Laos in July 1997.  

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