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06RANGOON253 2006-02-23 23:40:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Rangoon
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					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 RANGOON 000253 




E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/20/2016

Classified By: PAO Todd Pierce for Reasons 1.4 (b.d)

1. (C) Summary: our American Center (AC) in Rangoon has
attracted extra attention from both pro-democracy activists
and the ruling regime as our programs reach more people.
Representatives from Burma's National League for Democracy
(NLD) contact the AC daily and regularly use our Information
Resource Center to learn more about what is happening inside
and outside the country. Last week, the GOB ordered several
local papers to run articles naming course participants and
accusing them of being traitors for attending AC classes.
Despite this unwanted attention, the courses continue and
post works closely with NLD in establishing a new distance
education course for 120 activists living outside Rangoon.
Post also offers badly needed media training to the NLD's
Information Committee to help them get their message out to
broader audiences. End summary.

Under Pressure


2. (C) During the week of February 13-17, two private
weekly journals (The Yangon Times and 7-Day Weekly) had to
run articles from the Information Ministry which assailed NLD
members for attending courses in "human rights and political
English" at the American Center and British Council. The
articles identified NLD attendees by name. The editors of
both papers called the PAO on February 16 to apologize for
the articles, saying that the government insisted that they
be run.

3. (C) The courses in question cover democracy, human
rights, and current affairs and have been a bee in the ruling
generals' bonnet for several years. They began at both the
AC and British Council in 2003 at the behest of Aung San Suu
Kyi. In July 2005, the GOB abruptly cancelled the visa of
the Amcit teacher running the AC course as she left Rangoon
airport for a brief vacation. She made regular personal
visits to NLD headquarters, which is under constant GOB
scrutiny. An Embassy spouse with a diplomatic visa now serves
as the course instructor.

4. (C ) The recently planted articles understandably
spooked the older NLD members, some of whom saw them as a
harbinger that they would be arrested again. They have
decided to lay low for a few weeks and not attend AC
activities. But the articles have had no effect on younger
party members, who continue to visit the American Center in
droves, or on the crowds of students and other library
patrons without close political ties. The AC's open house in
January drew almost 1,000 Burmese eager to learn about what
we have to offer.

Distance Education Courses on Democracy and Human Rights



5. (C) NLD Deputy Spokesman U Myint Thein told PAO in
December that NLD members who have taken the course at the
American Center now use the class materials, particularly the
StreetLaw publications "Democracy for All" and "Human Rights
for All," to develop two three-month-long correspondence
courses for NLD activists living outside Rangoon. One of the
better English speakers at NLD translated the materials from
English to Burmese on his own, and several others added
examples from recent Burmese political history. Several
graduates of the AC course act as teachers, and the modules
are mailed to students spread out throughout Burma via the
Burmese postal service.

6. (C ) This new correspondence class demonstrates NLD's
continuing ingenuity at circumventing the regime's
restrictions, and provides a great way for us to get material
on post's priority issues to NLD activists throughout the
country. The NLD has a much greater knowledge of who's who
outside of Rangoon than we do, and they can spread our
democracy and human rights information much more discreetly
than we can. The AC course we offer to NLD leaders has,
almost accidentally, now become a very effective "train the
trainers" exercise (UNAIDS provides NLD with material for a
similar course on HIV/AIDS prevention which then gets
disseminated to many of the same people via the postal

7. (SBU) We also try to reach out to political activists in
other ways. Former political prisoners eagerly signed up for
a newly launched political science book club. Eleven bright
students with no hope of admission to a Burmese university or
studying abroad due to their political ties are now earning
degrees through an Indiana University distance education
program, funded by ESF funds and hosted at the center.

Meet the Press


8. (SBU) Post has also helped NLD reach the international
media more effectively. The GOB has allowed a few more
foreign journalists to visit Burma this year than in the
past, when almost all were denied visas. In the past four
months, Amy Kazmin of "Financial Times" and Alan Sipress of
the "Washington Post," received 10-day journalist visas.
These correspondents, and others visiting the country under
tourist visas, told us that they had trouble meeting with
senior NLD spokesmen and leaders, and when they did speak to
them, they got contradictory messages. Amy Kazmin told the
PAO that NLD officials refused her request for a meeting
"because it was on a weekend." Some felt that the NLD had
missed opportunities to make effective statements when the
Global Fund withdrew funding for Burma and when the GOB
suddenly announced its move to Pyinmana.

9. (SBU) Given the advanced age of many senior party
officials and the regime's tight restrictions on NLD
activities, it is not surprising that they sometimes have
trouble getting their messages into international media.
Recognizing this problem, NLD senior spokesman U Lwin
recently set up an Information Committee with four able
members, all eager to do a better job of informing the world
about NLD activities. In January, the PAO led a three-hour
workshop on "Working with Western Media" for the committee,
asking them to come up with press statements about various
past and future events. The workshop covered the Global Fund
announcement in August 2005, and hypothetical future
scenarios such as a strengthening of international sanctions,
the death in custody of NLD members, the release of Aung San
Suu Kyi or U Tin Oo, and other themes.

10. (C) The workshop was the first time committee members
had ever had such training. At the end of the program, the
PAO presented them with an email distribution list of all
Western electronic and print media correspondents based in
Bangkok and Singapore, and another list with email addresses
of NGOs working on the Burma issues in Asia, Europe and
America. Over the past month, NLD has used these lists to
get their message out much more quickly and to much wider
audiences than ever before. The NLD spokesman made more
focused comments in late January when the ruling regime's
sham National Convention adjourned than those the party had
made in the past. Post plans to run the workshop again in
the near future to address additional scenarios and to test
whether the mailing work well. The GOB blocks access to many
web-based email service providers, but savvy computer users
in Burma can get around most obstacles using proxy servers.

11. (C) COMMENT: Despite the unwelcome recent attention
from the regime, the AC's course for NLD's current and future
parliamentarians advances, and our work with the NLD remains
robust. We can take some credit for the quality and
usefulness of what we provide, but real credit goes to the
rank-and-file NLD party members who continue to attend our
lectures, visit our library, take our English classes, and
spread information to wider circles in Burma in the face of
regime threats and harassment. Yet we must turn away many
more who are interested in our programs. To meet the demand,
we have proposed expanding our programs to Mandalay, where we
already own property, and ultimately moving the current
American Center into larger premises. While expanding our
programs, we must also do so quietly to avoid additional
scrutiny or harassment. End comment.