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The Whole World Was Watching

Posted on Jan 22, 2008
protesting monks
AP photo / Mizzima News

Hundreds of Buddhist monks march through Rangoon in late September 2007 in the days before the Burmese military junta’s brutal crackdown.

By Sarah Stillman

(Page 2)

Stillman:  But how much was the regime able to crack down on this activity in September? I read that they tried to cut off cell phone reception and Internet connectivity. ...

Maung Maung: Well, if you look at the number of bloody images from the protests, you can see that the activists found their way around the regime. In the beginning, the junta didn’t know what the hell was happening. Young people were running around with their hand-held mobile phones and passing on photographs to people outside the country. They were two steps ahead.

The regime controlled the gateway to the Internet—it was really more of an Intra-net than an Internet—and they tried to shut it down, but the young people were breaking out for themselves, using their brains to get around the regime’s barriers.

Stillman: I’d like to get your take on some U.S. legislative issues. Last month, Congress passed legislation authored by Rep. Tom Lantos that would cut off tax deductions for business activities in Burma by U.S. companies, such as Chevron. The bill will also block the current laundering of Burmese gemstones, particularly rubies, through third countries before they are sold here. If these new measures get signed by President Bush and become law, how big a blow will they be to the military regime?


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Maung Maung: Well, the regime wants the world to think that Burma is a free and open economy, but if you scrutinize it, you’ll see that there are only two or three real monopolies controlling everything. The first is the UMEH. [Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings], which is owned by the military.  The second is owned by a business tycoon named Tay Za, and he’s the son-in-law of the regime’s top general. The third is a guy named Steven Law [who is alleged to have links to Burma’s drug trade]. 

If you want to do mining for gems or jade in Burma, you have to buy permission from the military’s own holdings company, so your very first investment in the project, even before you start digging, goes directly to the government. You also have to give a certain percentage of your profits to the government once you sell the gems, along with an export tax. So to get a single ruby into the global marketplace, you have to feed money to the government at least three times.

That’s why it’s so important that Burma’s gem and jade business be shut down. A long time ago, before I became an activist, I was a gemologist. I worked for the Burmese government for 12 years, so I know the business well, and I know that Burma has the best gems in the world. In order to get around the sanctions that were placed on Burmese gems [in 2003], they are bought by the Thai traders, recut in Thailand, and resold as “Thai” exports.

But any gemologist can look at a collector’s piece and see immediately that it’s come from Burma. You can’t lie about what we call “internal inclusions,” which are always unique to the site of mining: air bubbles, gas bubbles, rubies within rubies. A gem that is mined in, say, Dupont Circle, would be very different from a gem that is mined in Rockville. So you can identify the origins of a gem, if you bother to try.

Although the Thai exporters will continue to claim that their rubies are coming from Thailand, most of the top-quality gemstones are still coming from Burma, and we need to close up these legal loopholes. I think this new piece of legislation is just the beginning.

Stillman: China has significant influence with the Burmese military regime, given its extensive trade and military ties to the junta. And China has blocked meaningful actions by the U.N. Security Council on Burma. What would you like to see done to pressure China on Burma? Some have urged a boycott of the Olympic Games this summer. ....

Maung Maung: We’re not calling for a boycott of the Olympics. First of all, the Olympics are time-bound. They come and they go in 2008. Second of all, the athletes have spent their whole lives preparing for this event, and we want to respect that.

Having said that, what we need is to inform China that a stable Burma is good for everybody. We are not looking to kick up China’s investments in Burma; we’re looking at a system that would allow democratic participation for everybody in Burma’s politics and economics, and, therefore, greater stability.

Stillman: And what about India? It, too, could have an impact on the regime, and while China is repressive in its own right, India is a democracy that ought to play a constructive role but hasn’t—due to its energy interests, it seems.

Maung Maung: Being a large democracy, India is a very bulky animal to move around—the bureaucracy is so big that it’s hard to tell what’s going on. They were supportive of the pro-democracy movement earlier, but we don’t know what shifts have taken place. It seems like energy and gas availability from Burma has made India more willing to get comfortable with the regime.

Once again, we need to emphasize: Democracy in Burma is the best way to ensure that the raw energy that Indian needs comes from a stable and reliable source. 

Stillman: How effective do you think the various targeted sanctions by the U.S. are on the regime’s top leaders: the ban on travel visas, restrictions on bank accounts and so on?

Maung Maung: It’s making the regime go crazy. I must point out that, except from the U.S., there have been no sanctions from anybody. Some people say that sanctions haven’t worked, but I want to challenge them: Excuse me, but can you tell me who has even tried to place forceful sanctions on Burma? Europeans, mostly, have not.  European countries have visa bans, but nothing to strike at the heart of the economic issues. It’s only the United States that has done anything substantive. We have to thank the U.S. customs people and other authorities for following up on [presidential] executive orders.

As small as they are, the financial sanctions are making a huge economic impact. The man I mentioned earlier—Tay Za—owned an airline called Air Bagan. It flew to Singapore and Thailand, and the military generals were very proud of it. But then the financial scrutiny hit Tay Za, and the banks in Singapore refused to handle his money. The French, too, stopped servicing his planes, and Tay Za eventually had to give up the enterprise.

The business community in Singapore is scrutinizing Burmese accounts more harshly than ever before. There have been complaints from Burmese merchants about it. We know it’s making a big difference.

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By Douglas Chalmers, March 29, 2008 at 2:38 am Link to this comment

Asian rice crisis starts to bite -

“Worldwide rising demand has seen rice stocks plummet to their lowest in about three decades, with average prices doubling over the last five years.

Earlier this month the UN secretary general warned that global food stocks had fallen to their lowest level in decades, driving prices up and threatening millions with starvation….”

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By Douglas Chalmers, March 20, 2008 at 5:03 pm Link to this comment

Some topics from TalkChina are:-

IT’S TIME SOMETHING WAS SAID ABOUT BURMA!!! - or open a new topic in “Hot Issues” at

TIBET QUESTION subforum - join in or open your own topic.



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By Douglas Chalmers, March 20, 2008 at 5:02 pm Link to this comment

Its utterly pathetic that Truthdig has taken the Tibet blogs off its front page this week despite the continuing turmoil there - makes it hard to genuinely congratulate them on keeping this topic running, uhh.

Nevertheless, you can blog IN CHINA on an English language forum of the China Radio International website (main page at ) in BeiJing and listen to music online…..

The TalkChina forum menu is at

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By British Jew of faith, March 12, 2008 at 3:31 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Jeffrey, You might want to re-think Non Credo’s
point. It’s not so much about what the US is doing
wrong as it is about straightening out the Americans’ priorities. The issue of the fate of Palestine, of war or peace, has always been entirely up to our leadership in Israel. “We” hold total power over the Palestinian population. If we were in the state the Palestinians find themselves in, what would the world say? Show the courage of the Israeli soldiers who have said no to killing of civilians.

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By Douglas Chalmers, March 10, 2008 at 10:26 am Link to this comment

I wonder if this would have received more attention if the reporter was American?

Japanese Reporter Shot Dead by Burma Military

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By Thanks, March 8, 2008 at 10:36 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thank you for this important article.

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Purple Girl's avatar

By Purple Girl, March 6, 2008 at 3:31 am Link to this comment

Outrageous this particular religious group is the focus of any violence.They preach no hate, intolerance, no fear, no judgement no condemnation.
How tell tale when such a group is allowed to be victimized and yet no other religious leaders bother to take up their cause. where is the Christians, the Muslims the Jews- oh yeah slaughtering each othe ras ususal.
Perhaps it is out of envy they do nothing. Kill the most faithful and kind of mans religions and there will be no glaring light upon their heretical doctrines.Instead these relgious folks are spewing more rhetoric about their ‘rightful place in Gods eyes’ and others demonic alliegences.Why do these groups never take on the Buddhists- becasue the Buddhist won’t play their insolent game of who “Daddy loves more”. WE are all the creation of ‘God’/nature. We are the only species who are capable of changing th eworld with just one. We ahve been give Gifts and tools by which we are to honor and care for- WE ARE THE STEWARDS- our existence requires we keep an eye on all, manage and pass on into the future- Man’s Prime Directive, meaning of life. WE must ‘Pay it Forward’
My heart and soul go out to the Monks and their followers. Many of US around the world see your philosophy’s Beauty and Logic. Mankind is still struggling for the right to religious freedom and expression, Through the Snake Oil doctrines that hold us back and damn Us and our decedants to this day. These ‘religious’Orgnaizations are the first Horseman. The circular logic which has enslaved man for millenia. they have bound, gagged and tortured Us- becaseu they say they have the right to. Reality is that only by our concession do they weld such power. A charade, a fallacy, A SIN Against God Nature and Mankind. The first ‘Tool’ that was made into a Shackle. The First Rider Mounted and ready to ride against Us. Then it gave birth to ‘Gov’t’ the second Shackle, the second Rider, who covered or legitimized the First. But how best to keep the masses controlled- through their labor and their consumption. Big Business,the Third Shackle/Rider. Control all necessary Natural Resources, control wages, control market availability and options. Ensure Indentured Slavery by Instiutionalized Imbalance. Pay them less charge them more- add interest. And gamble well into the Future- they willnever catch up.Who is the Forth? But the Mass communications industry. Control information, and control thoughts that can be shared- a mental isolation tank. So bombarded with mindless crap we are unable think for ourselves- introspection, reflection, deductive logic. butthis Horseman is new, weak a fledgling. It may still have the fortitude to ride away. Honestly instead of the Telecoms hoping this “Immunity” thing flies- they should stop talking an dstart Singing. they have all the gathered Evidence- well documented and have additional info that would seal the other three fate. we are well aware that the other Three have set their loyalties through out history. But the Free Press and Freedom of Speech are the sole realm of the Mass Communications - the other three rely on you. We are Begging You to turn away and Ride Home to Us. “Just Gimme Some Truth” J. Lennon

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By Douglas Chalmers, March 4, 2008 at 2:51 am Link to this comment

By kath cantarella, February 29 : “What we can do for Burma… the financial sanctions…”

One of the major problems is ASEAN wich suddenly seemed to be run by a bunch of nameless idiots once the issue of the military in Myanmar/Burma was raised at their last conference. The presidents and foreign ministers fell over themselves apologizing for the dictatorship they have fostered for decades just as US politicians fawn over AIPAC despite Israel’s continued human rights abuses and scheming manipulating of US domestic politics.

There is doubtless a two-way street of financing and corruption (oops, I mean favoritism) which involves the Singapore state octopus, Temasek Holdings, and associated corporations which have helped finance the sudden construction of an entire new capital city, Nay Pyi Daw, in Burma in the last couple of years. No doubt, that has been helped by the funny money which finds its ways into everybody’s pockets, tainted by the drugs trade and so forth….. and pics at

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By kath cantarella, February 29, 2008 at 4:34 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

According to Maung Maung :


‘It’s only the United States that has done anything substantive. We have to thank the U.S. customs people and other authorities for following up on [presidential] executive orders. ‘

‘As small as they are, the financial sanctions are making a huge economic impact. The man I mentioned earlier—Tay Za—owned an airline called Air Bagan. It flew to Singapore and Thailand, and the military generals were very proud of it. But then the financial scrutiny hit Tay Za, and the banks in Singapore refused to handle his money. The French, too, stopped servicing his planes, and Tay Za eventually had to give up the enterprise…’

‘There has been a huge amount of moral support from American politicians, but the U.S. government hasn’t fully delivered….we have huge problems with logistics and implementation. ‘

and material support:

‘What it really comes down to is money: We need simple things like bicycles and satellite phones…. fuel is very expensive, so bicycles allow organizers to go around and speak with individuals in different areas.’

‘We also need money for video cameras, digital cameras and cell phones—these things are transforming our movement. It’s by bringing the eyes of the world back to the brutality of the regime that we can win out.’

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By Jeffrey Stingerstein, February 27, 2008 at 12:51 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Congrats!  That was the most ridiculous way to make this about the US doing something wrong that I have yet seen!  The issue of Israel and Palestine is far more complex than your lame post suggests.  And your post is way off topic.

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By kath cantarella, February 27, 2008 at 2:58 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

My head is now the shape of Burma, Dougie, from which the subject has veered to…er… the shape of my head.

And since i have participated in this process, mea culpa.

This thread should be about Burma.

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By Douglas Chalmers, February 17, 2008 at 9:27 pm Link to this comment

By Kath cantarella, February 16: “Mama tells me i was dropped on my head as a child…”

Only as a child? What “figure” is it shaped like now, uhh???

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By Kath cantarella, February 16, 2008 at 9:22 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Mr Apricot, i’m afraid i always have a hard time figuring out what you are trying to say. (Mama tells me i was dropped on my head as a child, go figure.)

I’ve never been a fan of apricots but thank Christ (or South America?) for good coffee.

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By lilmamzer, February 7, 2008 at 8:55 am Link to this comment

Chalmers says, “The first things ARE loving kindness and doing to others as we would have them do to us.”

Hypocrisy never sounded more Progressive.

Chalmers, you never fail to deliver.

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By lilmamzer, February 7, 2008 at 8:39 am Link to this comment

frickin’ tin-foil-hat broken record

~ Y A W N ~

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By Douglas Chalmers, February 3, 2008 at 1:44 pm Link to this comment

#By kath cantarella, January 25: “You’re a peach, Doug…”

Uhh, I’m not a peach, I’m an apricot…....

#By Non Credo, February 3: “At least in Burma, the US is not actively, materially, fanatically, brazenly taking the side of the oppressors as they go about their greedy, murderous business…”

Well, they are actually, Non Credo. Its that we have downgraded the significance of scheming and manipulating as a motivating force in what happens. We know that the USA supports its oil + gas corporations wherever they operate. That means diplomatically and covertly (the CIA) as well as militarily.

Diplomacy is actually the first step in “the art of war” and it is often the most lethal. Blundering military action on the part of a superpower is the last resort but should not be waited for before assuming guilt or complicity. That is a game that the courts and the legalists love to play, though.

So, let us NOT forget Burma. The first things ARE loving kindness and doing to others as we would have them do to us. Of course, that is not the way of Machiavellian politics but it is the way to the end of the world and the end of civilization. We should be learning from the Buddhists there, not the generals…....

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By kath cantarella, January 25, 2008 at 10:56 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

thanks for replying.

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By Sang Ze, January 25, 2008 at 8:58 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“The world is a dangerous place to live in not because of those who do evil but because of those who watch and let it happen.” Albert Einstein

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By Douglas Chalmers, January 25, 2008 at 4:59 am Link to this comment

Re: Burma needs more coverage world-wide - #By kath cantarella, January 25: ”...can you clarify your comment please, since you have quoted me…”

Uhh, sorry, kath, I meant to include something about your comment which was interesting. The reason I was making that statement, though, was NOT about you.

The problem is that the military don’t often turn away from their commanders because they are what they are. It is (a) a kind of psychopathic state and (b) they love the thrill of killing, the chase, the fire-fights, whatever.

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By kath cantarella, January 25, 2008 at 1:33 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hi Douglas, can you clarify your comment please, since you have quoted me?

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By Douglas Chalmers, January 23, 2008 at 7:51 pm Link to this comment

Burma needs more coverage world-wide - #By kath cantarella, January 22: ”...if only the military would turn away from it’s commanders….. The Burmese resistance is an example to the West…”

Everyone should be aware that Burma/Myanmar topics as well as Pakistan/Benazir Bhutto topics do attract low-level propaganda disinformation, misinformation and smear tactics from military officers from these countries posing as ordinary bloggers.

Thye operate in much the same way as GOP supporters do in covertly attacking Hillary Clinton blog topics through various kinds of deception. It happens on all blogs including in Asia. You get to know who is who after a while….. they also make use of the internet!

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By sy, January 23, 2008 at 6:09 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Readers of this article may find the following interesting:
“Pulling the Plug: A Technical Review of the Internet Shutdown in Burma”

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By Burma Bloggers for Freedom, January 23, 2008 at 9:42 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Very thankful to truthdig and Sarah Stillman,

Thank you for presenting interview with Maung Maung. Actually, he did nothing for our people inside Burma and never involved in any activities for the recent movements. It is really really ashame for him he said what he did inside and saying about his people for the recent protest were totally incorrect. Maung Maung, he’s useless too.  What did he do along the Thai-Burma border, nothing, just sitting and talking shit. Sorry for that. We don’t want to see his interview again with incorrect infos. He neither represent people nor workers. God Bless You Maung Maung. We’re watching your move.

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By Douglas Chalmers, January 23, 2008 at 3:52 am Link to this comment

Quote Sarah Stillman: “American consumers, too, play a role in funding the regime, thanks to our taste for Burmese gemstones. In 2006 alone, the state-controlled Myanmar Gems Enterprise lapped up almost $300 million from the global ruby and jade trade, a revenue increase of 45 percent from the previous year….”

After making crawlingly supportive gestures towards Burma/Myanmar’s military rulers at a recent ASEAN meeting, Singaporean prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, ”...has called on France and other European countries to take a strategic view of their relationship with Asia. He said they need to look beyond economics and take a stake in Asia’s developments instead. Mr Lee was speaking to Singapore reporters after he met French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris on the first of his three-day visit…...

Mr Lee cited one example on how France can take the lead in having a greater stake in Asia. He said France was the first European country to sign the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, or TAC, with ASEAN.
That treaty commits the ASEAN countries to co-exist peacefully and France endorsed that treaty last year at the ASEAN meeting in Cebu, Philippines. This shows France’s interest in Southeast Asia. Mr Lee said “because they did that, other European countries are now wanting also to participate and to sign the TAC”....”
- PM Lee calls on Europe to take strategic views over Asian ties -

Well, that would be nice because, despite the US Senate in December approved sanctions against Myanmar ‘s multi-million dollar gemstone industry, “Myanmar ‘s military government sold 600 lots of gems and jade at a recent auction, state media said Sunday, earning much-needed foreign income for the isolated military government as it faces stiff economic sanctions.

Despite calls from the United States and human-rights groups for a boycott of the sale after a bloody crackdown on protests last year, about 280 foreigners attended the sale, the New Light of Myanmar paper said…...

About 1,600 lots of gems and jade were up for sale at the auction which ended Saturday, and another sale of the precious stones is scheduled for March, the newspaper said. Myanmar , one of the world’s poorest countries, is the source of up to 90 per cent of the world’s rubies, and each auction rakes in more than 100 million US dollars, making it a key source of revenue for the military regime….” - Myanmar auctions gems, jade despite boycott calls -

NOTE that news items such as these do NOT necessarily appear on the Singapore or other ASEAN countries’ media websites but usually have to be searched for on site using “...Myanmar” as part of the search terms.

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By kath cantarella, January 22, 2008 at 10:15 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Unlike Iraq, Burma has a leader that would unite the country, if only the military would turn away from it’s commanders. 
The Burmese resistance is an example to the West.

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By srelf, January 22, 2008 at 12:58 pm Link to this comment

Like Michael Moore asked of CNN when he wrangled with Wolf Blitzer over their distortion of the healthcare debate, “Who’s keeping CNN honest?”
Anderson Cooper should be doing constant updates on Burma and I still cringe when I hear him repeat that phrase! But he probably has no power to stay on a story like Burma that requires long-term attention. It’s the nature of our screwed-up news/entertainment business, supported by a populace that hasn’t been taught by the preceding generation what citizenship means.

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