Agam's Gecko
Friday, October 21, 2005
Chinese trucks carry Burmese timber
BORDER CONTROL: Chinese border guard inspects Burmese timber -
"I know nah-tink, naaahh-tink!"
Photo credit: Global Witness

n Tuesday this week at the Bangkok Foreign Correspondents' Club, the environmental watchdog group Global Witness launched a major report into the massive illegal plundering of Burma's remaining hardwood forests by Chinese logging companies, aided by the complicity of both Chinese officials and the Burmese military dictatorship, and the disinterest of much of the world. More than 95% of the timber shipped across the Burma - China border is done illegally with a nod and a wink, causing a loss to the Burmese people of around a quarter of a billion dollars per year.

As the great forests of teak and other hardwoods nearest the Chinese border are depleted, the Chinese logging companies are moving deeper into the interior of the country. The Chinese Foreign Ministry denied the report's findings, claiming that China does not allow its citizens "to conduct illegal deforestation activities and trade across the border." The photo above is only one of many contained in the report which belie that claim. Global Witness also cites the EU for failing to follow through on commitments made a year ago to come up with initiatives to help save some of the last remaining old growth forests in Asia, considered as the most richly bio-diverse temperate areas left on earth. China also made promises in 2001 to address the illicit timber trade, but has done nothing about it. In fact, the virtual theft of this natural resource has increased by 60% since then.

Normally, an illegal activity involving the removal of valuable property from one country and its transfer into another country for massive profit, would be called "smuggling." But in this case the word hardly does the activity justice, because it is being done on such a massive scale and absolutely out in the open. There's no need to hide anything, when everyone in authority, on both sides of the frontier, is involved. Even the word "ironic" is insufficient to describe the stern forest protection measures on the Chinese side of these border passes -- passes which see Chinese trucks (average load 15 tonnes) crossing Chinese checkpoints with illegal timber every seven minutes (day and night, 365 days a year). You see, Chinese forests are protected, and logging is not allowed. Since massive cutting of eastern Tibet's forests contributed to deadly flash flooding in China and India several years ago, the Chinese government clamped down on logging in their own country.

The Burmese military dictatorship is one of the most brutal and repressive to rule any nation at the present time -- and also one of the most forgotten. We've just seen a remarkably fast consitutional process in a country that is beginning to emerge from under the boot of a vicious tyranny -- and the Burmese generals' regime was often likened by Burmese democracy activists over the years to that of Saddam's Iraq. But the Iraqis were able to hammer out a constitutional agreement in three months, and ratify it soon after. The new nation of Timor Leste (East Timor) took seven months to create theirs. The Burmese generals have had their laughable constitution writing project under way (after their proxies lost an election that Aung San Suu Kyi's party won by a landslide), for more than 15 years! This is how they've kept their misrule going for that same 15 years ("We're workin' on it!") while they make wars of genocide against ethnic minorities like the Karen and the Shan.

And one of the main reasons the world is impotent to do anything to improve the lot of Burma's people, apart from some trade sanctions and somewhat stronger measures by the US, is that Burma has a strong protector sitting on the UN Security Council by the name of the People's Republic of China. Beijing expends political capital to protect these tyrants from the criticism of the world's democracies (well, some of them anyway), and it expects something in return. It amounts to a protection racket, and since Burma is such a poor country due to the gross mismanagement of the ruling junta, they pay for it with their valuables instead of cash. And make no mistake, these hardwoods are extremely valuable. Burma is receiving chump change in relation to their true worth, and because of the perverse Orwellian system they live under, the people of the country see little to none of the aforementioned chump change anyway.

The Global Witness press release is here, and the full report -- containing much detail, many charts and graphs as well as plenty of revealing photos -- can be downloaded from this page. Here's hoping that the US will be able to put Burma on the UNSC agenda this month, as they have pledged to try again, after having been blocked in June by Russia and China, and the same countries are standing in the way this month. Burma needs to be discussed in that council -- the Burmese people's nightmare has been going on for far too long already. Getting past the "protection racket" (I wonder what Russia's angle is, besides Chechnya) will be very difficult, but at least the Americans have a strong voice to move the issue forward if anyone can. John Bolton, let's see you do your stuff.


s sure as night follows day, once the holy fasting month of Ramadan is declared by Indonesia's Islamic scholars, certain life forms are almost guaranteed to begin their annual activities. And while the national police continue to conduct "sweeping" activities aimed at netting conspirators and/or participants in the October 1 bombings in Bali, the Islamic Defenders' Front (Front Pembela Islam) has once again emerged to conduct their own version of "sweeping" -- aiming to stop "immoral activities" during the sacred period of peace, contemplation and introspection. The FPI is not only active during the fasting month though, as some readers may recall their aggressive attempt a few months ago to halt a Miss Waria (ladyboy) competition in Jakarta. But they are particularly keen to keep everyone in line during Ramadan, and their methods are anything but introspective.

And so once again, Indonesians have seen violent FPI attacks from Jakarta to Kalimantan. In West Jakarta's Kalijodo area of small bars and "green light" establishments last weekend, FPI militants clashed with local residents who fought them off with thrown projectiles, as well as bows and arrows. At least three of the self-appointed morality enforcers were wounded during the half hour battle, before police fired warning shots and broke it up. Several local people were also wounded by the "sharp weapons" carried by the attackers. When FPI does anything, they never forget to bring their swords -- although pool cues will also do in a pinch. They also held a demonstration at the West Jakarta police precinct this week to protest the investigation of this incident, and they brought along their swords for that occasion as well.

I've seen these fellows holding demos in the capital over recent years, and they are seemingly never without a good supply of long, curved, Arabic-looking swords -- and it was annoying that while everybody would wring their hands and wish they wouldn't do that, they seemed to have impunity to break the law for some reason. Now, I'll admit that the swords do look good with these birds' beautiful plumage and all -- the long robes, the colourful turbans, and head wrappings to hide their faces -- but if they want to re-enact the 7th century, maybe they should all go out into a field somewhere away from other people and do their re-enactments like the medieval historical societies do with their armour and chain mail parties. A crowded metropolis like Jakarta is no place for roving gangs armed with cutlasses, eh? Anyway, the West Jakarta police actually detained eight of them on this occasion, although the police admitted that at least 30 of them had been carrying spears, machetes, swords and sickles. This from the Jakarta Post, so forget about the link (because the Post only makes them linkable on the date of publication).

In Samarinda, in East Kalimantan province, FPI gangs targetted bars, hotels and street vendor stalls, with hundreds of militants going around the city in gangs of about twenty. They beat people who they suspected were acting "immorally", and stole mobile phones. An FPI "commander" was quoted by the Kaltim Post:
"Allahu Akbar [God is Great]! Remember, this is the month of Ramadhan. Don't be afflicted by spiritual torment from your immoral actions. Don't sell alcohol. Quickly close these dark kiosks. And the guards of women's stalls, go home quickly."
In another street, some young men and women were sitting together when the FPI gang started a quarrel and then engaged in a scuffle with them. Some of the girls cursed the attackers, and one shouted that they had groped her breasts. The "commander" of this gang replied:
"Your parents are ashamed to have a child like you. What kind of child does not go home by midnight? You must go home immediately. Don't make us more emotional with your immoral actions."
The gangs also raided hotels in Samarinda, chasing beer drinkers out of the restaurant and couples out of their rooms. The overall "commander" of this multi-pronged operation, Habib Fauzi Al-Kharid, denied that his men had beaten anyone or stolen property. He claimed that any bad acivities must have been carried out by infiltrators, and that his militants had been wearing green armbands as a precaution against this. But he added that if the public refuse to obey to FPI's instructions, or if they oppose its "sweeping" activities against "immorality," then his group would react with even greater force.

Samarinda police officials claimed they were "not afraid to take firm action" against further such raids. These particular FPI raids started around 11 pm and ran until 2:15 am. Could it be that those charged with "protecting and serving" the good citizens of Samarinda City were simply awestruck by the beautiful Arabic plumage on these boys? I've written before (and I've felt it for years), that I'm really tired of seeing normally sensible people acting all obsequious and deferential simply because some guy has long chin whiskers, a turban and a robe on.

But at least the people of Indonesia don't have it as bad as what the fundamentalist morality enforcers are inflicting on the good people of Tehran. In that city, if the police catch you acting immorally -- like eating during the fasting hours of Ramadan -- they're liable to just kill you:
TEHRAN - Iranian police have been accused of shooting and killing a motorist after he failed to stop when spotted eating during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, a press report said.

The victim, identified as 22-year-old Seyed Mostafa, was shot dead in Tehran on Saturday.

He was also playing loud music with his car stereo, the government Iran newspaper said.

"Even if the police claim is right, is eating during the fasting month punishable by death?" the victim's brother was quoted as saying.

The report did not say if the family would press charges against the police, who have been actively enforcing a dawn to dusk Ramadan ban on public eating, drinking and smoking as well as a wider campaign to crack down on "lawless elements".
Wai Andy McCarthy at The Corner for catching that one. And let me draw attention again, to the very fine source for the story on FPI activities last weekend -- the recently revamped Laksamana Net is now known as Paras Indonesia, a news and opinion portal site "where democratic minds meet." The link remains where it has been for ages already, under our Asia Pacific News section. They were offline for a while during their redesign, and I changed the title when they came back with the new format but hadn't yet mentioned it in a post.


ose Ramos Horta was for 25 years the internationally recognisable face of the freedom movement of East Timor, serving as its virtual foreign minister in the world's capitals and at the UN. Early in this blog's life, I linked to and quoted from an editorial he had written for the Wall Street Journal, in which he took the anti-Iraq liberation movement to task for its hypocrisy in regards to its own presumed internationalist and liberal humanitarian values. There is no doubt that he would have tread on a lot of toes with that piece, given that the set of people who actively supported the East Timor cause for many years, and the set of people who vocally and stridently oppose the liberation of Iraqis even today, can almost be said to be one and the same. How much this might or might not coincide with the set of people who believe that the United States is always wrong in every circumstance, is an issue for another day.

The freedom struggle of East Timor, as a popular cause for "progressive" sorts of people since the late 1970's (this writer included), is a fact that Chris Hitchens likes to remind his readers (and audiences -- see the Galloway debate) about frequently. It is a useful reminder, and one of the issues that actually has the potential to induce people to re-examine some of their interlocking mosaic of ideological notions, that they may perhaps find an inconsistency there. Particularly so in Australia, where the East Timor struggle attracted strong support from a large number of Australians. A great number of Australian public personalities and opinion journalists are quite outspoken in their opposition to the Howard government's participation in the international coalition which ousted Saddam's regime, and many of them advocate a more "understanding" approach to the causes of the terrorists -- whether it be those fighting for the Islamic empire in Iraq, or in Asia or elsewhere. There must be some "root causes" in all this, and if we can just divine exactly what they are, they can be addressed in a fair way, and everybody will be happy. No more radical Islamist terror once the legitimate grievances have been taken care of.

Australians see the attacks on tourist locales in Bali as largely directed against them, because Australians take their holidays to Bali more than any other nationality. Yet the most deadly attack in 2002 which took over 80 Australian lives, was well before that country joined in the allied invasion of Iraq. Although one of the bombers claimed they had been hoping to kill more Americans, many others in radical Islamist circles cited Australia's role in "taking" East Timor away from their "Muslim" country. That reason is still given to this day by jihadists, as a reason for their hatred of Australia. And following the al Qaeda attack in Baghdad which destroyed the UN mission there, killing many internationalists including the respected diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello, bin Laden himself claimed revenge for de Mello's role in helping East Timor's transition to independence. Those whom the left now seeks to "understand," see the liberation of East Timor as nothing more than a theft from the Islamic world by infidels -- and no less of a crime to be avenged for Islamic honour, than is the case for Iraqi freedom today.

Ramos-Horta has taken a lot of insults from the left for his views, often from the very same people who championed him only a few years earlier. Well, he's in for more of the same. In a recent issue of the Asian Wall Street Journal, he wrote in praise of the young soldiers who are now standing with the Iraqi people as they struggle to solidify a new and democratic system for their country. I don't find the full article available on the net, but The Australian published an exerpt this week (wai Tim Blair):
TIME and again as I watch the barbarity inflicted on innocent Iraqi civilians, often women and children, pass with seeming silence and indifference from the rest of the world, I ask where are those who are so quick to take to the streets to protest every alleged US sin, be it real or imaginary?

If they are so appalled at the graphic photos showing the depraved acts committed by a small number of American servicemen - photos that, never let it be forgotten, were unearthed as a result of the US Army's own investigation - surely they should be even more appalled by the daily carnage inflicted on the Shiah majority in Iraq.

Instead, those who hate the US seem to believe that every wrong committed by an American serviceman must not only be loudly condemned but portrayed as a deliberate act by the US Government, while the systematic and daily barbarities perpetrated predominantly by Sunni Muslims upon their fellow Muslims pass without comment. Such hypocrisy and unwarranted attacks increase the pressure on the US to cut and run from Iraq...

For all the present violence, in a few years Iraq could easily evolve into a peaceful and democratic country. Whether that transpires ultimately rests in the hands of the millions of Iraqis. But they cannot succeed if they are abandoned. And the brave, young American soldiers whom we today see cruising the treacherous streets of Iraq, sometimes battling the terrorists, sometimes conversing with ordinary Iraqis, will be remembered as the heroes who made this possible.
By the way, the guys over at Iraq the Model have some great writing up now on Iraqis' views on watching the Saddam trial. For somewhat more technical and legalistic debate on this trial of the century, see the Saddam Trial Blog.

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