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Burma 9 February 2006

Military junta launches manhunt for informants of international news media

Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association voiced great concern today about a campaign launched by the military regime to track down people in Burma who give information to international media. Military officers have been trained in how to identify the sources used by international radio stations and new phone tapping facilities have been installed.

"The paranoia and violence of the Burmese military, especially Gen. Than Shwe, the head of the military junta, could have dramatic consequences for Burmese who dare to give information to journalists based abroad," the two organisations said. "International radio stations are often the only source of independent information for millions of Burmese, and it would do great harm if people were afraid to talk to them."

Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association have gathered information about a recent series of measures taken by senior junta officials to train agents within the Military Security Force (Sa Ya Hpa) - which replaced Military Intelligence (MI) - to identify and catch foreign media informants.

A number of businessmen, journalists and civil servants have been interrogated recently by members of the Military Security Force about their role in giving information to Burmese-language radio stations. During these interrogations, the military had recordings of broadcasts by foreign stations such as Radio Free Asia and tried to get these people to admit they had talked to journalists abroad. The military also repeatedly examined their mobile phones.

Lt. Gen. Myint Swe, the military chief for the Rangoon division and head of the Defence Services Intelligence, recently organised training on the way to identify Burmese who give information to foreign news media or news media operated by Burmese in exile. Former MI officers taught Military Security Force personnel methods for identifying press sources.

According to the Independent Mon News Agency, the chief trainer was Capt. Aung Kyaw Kyaw, the former head of MI in Mon State, who got a reputation there for threatening to kill people who gave information to the foreign media.

A group of Rangoon-based Burmese journalists, including correspondents for foreign media, were recently summoned by the information ministry and asked to respond to attacks orchestrated by the foreign media. Ministry officials asked some journalists to provide a list of their contacts. The ministry also organised seminars for civil servants to train them in how to respond to "foreign propaganda," while civilians have been trained in how to identify "informants."

Several journalists in exile have confirmed to Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association that the authorities often take sanctions against their sources in Burma. "It is often the case that people we talk to have their phone lines cut," one reporter said. The government has just installed two new mobile phone tapping centres in the central city of Mandalay, while the Military Security Force has stepped up control of communications in the regions bordering Thailand. Two people were arrested in the southern city of Moulmein (in Mon State) for receiving "suspicious" international calls on their mobile phones.

This hunt for informants coincides with a report in the exile magazine Irrawaddy that the junta fears a US military invasion. The report cites a document in which a military commander suggests eliminating members of the opposition National League for Democracy in the event of a US attack.

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