ALTSEAN-BURMA
Alternative Asean Network on Burma
campaigns, advocacy and capacity-building for human rights

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KEY ISSUES - REGIME
Burma has been ruled uninterruptedly by a military regime since 1962. In 1989, a military coup overthrew the regime led by Gen. Ne Win and a junta took power under the name of State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). In 1997 the junta renamed itself State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). Reshuffles and purges routinely take place among the SPDC ranks. The purge and subsequent imprisonment of former PM Gen Khin Nyunt in October 2004 exemplifies this.
The SPDC

Senior General Than Shwe is the Chairman of the SPDC; General Maung Aye and General Thura Shwe Mann are #2 and #3 of the junta. Prime Minister General Thein Sein currently heads the 33-minister SPDC Cabinet.

• The SPDC has adopted repressive laws to imprison political activists. These include the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Act; the 1908 Unlawful Associations Act; the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act and the 1975 State Protection Law.
• The SPDC has been characterized over the years by growing instability and power struggles among its top generals.
• In November 2005, the SPDC abruptly moved the country’s capital from Rangoon to the secluded site of Naypyidaw near Pyinmana, about 320 kilometers north of the former capital.
Government Organized Non-Governmental Organizations (GONGOs)
Civil Society organizations in Burma are, for the most part, junta-sponsored organizations. Following its defeat in the 1990 elections, the regime set up mass organizations to represent and mobilize military interests within the society. Most of these were founded after 1993, and these are referred to as GONGOs (Government Organized Non-Governmental Organizations).
• GONGOs were either taken over from private initiatives or they were set up explicitly under instructions by the junta.
• GONGOs typically seek to infiltrate communities, ranging from state, district, township, to village and ward. Many of them are institutionalized with offices at various levels, and solicit money directly and openly from individuals, businesses, governments and other NGOs.
• GONGOS in Burma include the Myanmar Maternal and Child Welfare Association (MMCWA), Myanmar Women’s Affairs Federation (MWAF), Myanmar Women’s Entrepreneurs Association (MWEA), Myanmar Writers and Journalists Association (MWJA) Myanmar Red Cross Society (MRC), Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce & Industry, Myanmar Women’s Development Association (MWDA), Myanmar War Veteran’s Organization (WVO), Myanmar Medical Association (MMA).
USDA
The Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) is undoubtedly the most tangible example of junta-sponsored organization. The USDA was created in 1993 by Burma’s military regime. High ranking SPDC members are patrons, secretaries and members of the USDA’s Central Executive Committee. Based on its increased role, it is readily apparent that the SPDC wants to use the USDA as a political party and to take the remaining seats not reserved for the Army in future elections.
• The USDA is established at the village tract, ward, township, district, and division levels. It claims 24.6 million members countrywide.
• The USDA’s aggressive and coercive recruitment campaign of members involves incentives for students, business owners, civil servants, and political opposition. Refusal to become a USDA member inevitably results in harassment and decreased opportunities for education and professional advancement.
• The USDA is responsible for numerous acts of harassment and intimidation of pro-democracy activists, including the May 2003 attack to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s motorcade in Depayin, Sagaing Division.
Army
Also known as the “Tatmadaw”, the SPDC Army numbers around 400,000, Southeast Asia’s second largest Army after Vietnam’s. It has more than doubled in size since the SPDC took power in 1989. About 3,000 military officers graduate annually from different schools and academies. There are also more than 80,000 police force members in Burma. The SPDC Army is responsible for widespread and systematic violations of human rights, including arbitrary arrests, torture, extrajudicial killings, rape and sexual violence against women, forced labor, extortion, land and property confiscation, forced relocation.
• The Tatmadaw operates through its 13 Regional Commands (Naypyidaw, Rangoon, Central, Northwest, Western, Southwest, Coastal, South, Southeast, Eastern, Triangle, Northeast, and North).
• The SPDC Army is believed to include the world’s highest number of child soldiers (70,000 according to some estimates).
• Although official figures on Burma's military spending are not available, estimates suggest military spending makes up 40 percent of the regime’s overall budget.
Military Operations
After signing ceasefire agreements with most of Burma’s ethnic groups, Burma’s military has increased militarization of border areas to carry out attacks against the remaining few armed opposition groups and to drive out anti-India armed groups based along the Indo-Burma border. SPDC Army military campaigns also aim at controlling the territory where infrastructural projects (dams, pipelines, roads, bridges) are planned. Major ongoing military campaigns include:
• Military offensive in Karen State, allegedly to combat the armed opposition group Karen National Union (KNU) in what is believed the world’s longest civil war that started in 1947.
• Military offensive in Karenni State, allegedly to combat the armed opposition group Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP),
• Military offensive against Shan State Army - South (SSA - S) armed opposition group.
• Counter-insurgency operations in Chin State and Sagaing Division against Burma-based, anti-Indian groups such as the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) and the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA).
Arms procurement
In an effort to bolster the armed forces, the SPDC diversifies the sources of its military hardware by finding willing suppliers in countries that are eager to gain access to the nation's abundant energy resources. China and Russia are the SPDC’s primary arms suppliers. In addition, military ties with India have become progressively closer. Other major arms suppliers include Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Singapore, South Korea, and Ukraine.
• China is the principal supplier of military equipment to Burma: it provides 90 percent of the regime's military hardware. China's total military aid to the SPDC since the junta came to power in 1989 is estimated at $1.6 billion. China has provided Burma with nearly 200 battle tanks of various types.
• In 2001, the regime acquired 12 MiG-29 jet fighters from Russia. Other military hardware bought from Moscow includes training planes and assault helicopters in addition to radar and communication equipment. It is believed that the junta is also negotiating for medium to long-range air-to-surface missiles.
• The SPDC has procured 80 75mm howitzers and various types of anti-aircraft weapons, including shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles and rocket launchers from India. The regime is also seeking naval expertise from India. In November 2006, India offered the junta a multi-million dollar military assistance package that would include light helicopters, avionics upgrades for the regime's fighter jets, and naval surveillance aircraft.
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