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Wikileaks: US scoffed at ‘Myanmar Times’ pleas after SPDC purge

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – US diplomats in Rangoon in 2004 scoffed at a bid by The Myanmar Time’s Australian co-owner Ross Dunkley to prevent the shutdown of his paper in the wake of Khin Nyunt’s purge from the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). 

According to a 2004 US diplomatic cable recently released by the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks, a December 4, 2004, letter written by co-owner and editor Dunkley was circulated to numerous embassies in Rangoon asking for statements of support should his weekly newspaper "be closed down for any reason."
Australian Ross Dunley was the first foreign journalist to enter the Rangoon media market in 2000. Photo: Mizzima
The general tone of the cable indicated that the American diplomats were somewhat enthused by Dunkley’s predicament. The cable noted: “We would not view any U.S. interests at stake should The Myanmar Times and its editor, a regular apologist for the SPDC, go down in flames.”

The cable said that Dunkley, “Like many others who enjoyed the protection of the Khin Nyunt empire, his company is paying the price for having relied exclusively on connections to the ousted Prime Minister.”

The cable noted that Dunkley’s plea to the Rangoon diplomatic community was sent a few days after the arrest of The Myanmar Times then co-owner Sonny Swe (full name U Myat Swe).  As the cable noted, “Sonny Swe is the son of Brigadier General Thein Swe, formerly a senior military intelligence (MI) official under ousted Prime Minister Khin Nyunt.  BG Thein Swe himself was a victim of the post-Khin Nyunt purge of MI and is reportedly detained at Insein Prison.”

The cable stated that in his letter “Dunkley claims that Sonny Swe is accused of ‘using his father's influence to bypass the censorship process’ by seeking GOB approval for each edition of The Myanmar Times through MI, rather than through ‘normal channels’ at the Ministry of Home Affairs and its Press Scrutiny Board.”

The cable also said that in his letter Dunkley declared that The Myanmar Times has "never once in five years embarrassed the government or Myanmar [Burma]."  According to the cable, Dunkley added, "In line with the policies of the government we have always wholly encouraged the development of the road map" and "we are...a very visible example of a successful Myanmar-foreign cooperation."

Dunkley finished his plea to the diplomats with the following: “I hope your government would defend The Myanmar Times … and see it as an integral part of the progression of the SPDC on its road map and transition to democracy.”

Dunkley’s response to cable

Reached for comment, Dunkley told Mizzima by e-mail that the cable’s author the then chief of the US mission in Rangoon, Carmen Martinez, was ill suited for the task. 

Dunkley wrote: “Ms. Martinez may have been an experienced diplomat in places like Bogota or Buenos Aires, but she was sadly way too tall to hear the low, hushed tones of the chatter in Myanmar, way down at ground level.

“Her praying mantis demeanour also frightened the polite, reserved Myanmar and she rarely made her mark felt. I sensed they were rather taken aback by her stilettos and stockings, viewing them as more suitable to smoky dance bars in Mexico,” Dunkley said.

“Consequently, her ability to project a more sophisticated personality to the well-educated Burmese meant she missed out on all sorts of political goodies,” he added. “To my mind she was a markedly different creature to that of Priscilla Clapp who butterflied around the golf courses with the generals and was quite nicely 'engaged' in the political process. Pity the Americans didn't send more of her type around the world.”

Cable refutes the qualities of 'The Myanmar Times’

The cable went on to refute some of the self-described qualities of The Myanmar Times and the paper’s colourful Australian editor, Dunkley.  The cable stated: “Dunkley has claimed at various international venues, most notably in Bangkok and Washington, that his newspaper is fully independent and that he uses the publication to ‘push the envelope’ and press for free speech and other political changes in Burma.  The Myanmar Times does, on rare occasion, publish limited news about events generally considered off limits by state media (e.g. natural disasters inside Burma, international meetings that discuss Burma developments, etc.).  However, as Dunkley freely admits, his publications are subject to government censorship and ‘sensitive’ articles routinely hit the cutting floor.  The Myanmar Times never criticizes the military regime and each week prints a robust assortment of articles that praise GOB [Government of Burma] officials and the achievements of the SPDC.”
In the seven years since Khin Nyunt and Sonny Shwe’s arrest, The Myanmar Times has continued to publish weekly English and Burmese editions while maintaining a pro-regime line.  Dunkley has managed to stay on as editor despite a recent power struggle with his new Burmese co-owners, a battle which was widely believed to have led to Dunkley’s arrest in February of this year on what many observers concluded were trumped up charges. 

Dunkley’s recent trial in a Rangoon court on immigration, kidnapping, drug and rape charges involving an incident with a Rangoon sex worker in January was foreshadowed in the 2004 diplomatic cable which predicted that Dunkley’s continued presence in Burma could be problematic and “the Australian Embassy may have a sticky citizen case on its hands.” 

The government’s case against Dunkley appeared to collapse after the women involved withdrew her testimony shortly after the trial began. The Burmese prosecutors however continued to pursue a conviction and in the end of June Dunkley was found guilty of the lesser charge of causing “minor harm” to the women and also found to have violated a minor immigration charge and sentenced to 30 days in jail, 17 less than what he had already spent prior to getting bail. 

Dunkley has said that he would appeal the conviction, and he appears determined to try and stay on at The Myanmar Times.  In an interview with Australia’s ABC following the verdict, Dunkley, when asked why he was appealing, responded: “Well because the importance of justice is a concept that is natural to all of us. And when you didn't commit a crime and you're found guilty of it and there's no evidence to support that – no witnesses, nothing whatsoever to be convicted – then you ought to appeal it.”

At present, a 49-percent stake in The Myanmar Times’s publisher Myanmar Consolidated Media Group Ltd. is held by Dunkley and the family of Bill Clough, an Australian mining tycoon who has offshore gas interests in Burma through his control of Twinza Oil.  The remaining 51 percent is held by Dr. Tin Tun Oo, a leading figure in Burma’s military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party from Pazundaung Township.  Dunkley and Clough also own a controlling interest in Cambodia’s Phnom Penh Post.

‘The Myanmar Times’ started with funds from controversial Japanese foundation

While Dunkley has frequently claimed his newspaper is independent and financially stable and publicly mocked The Irrawaddy magazine for receiving support from the US government, The Myanmar Times was started with support from Japan’s controversial Sasakawa Peace Foundation (SPF).  The foundation is named after Ryoichi Sasakawa, accused but acquitted of being a Class A war criminal by American authorities, for the role he played during Japan’s fascist dictatorship. 

The Sasakawa Peace Foundation and its sister organization the Nippon Foundation are run by Sasakawa’s son Yohei, who Dunkley calls “a supporter and mentor.”

In January, Dunkley was quoted in a glowing profile on Yohei Sasakawa published in the Phnom Penh Post, saying: “I cannot over-emphasise the enormously important role SPF played in the early days of our Myanmar operations providing much-needed training support when we had no cash to do so, and also allowing me to travel and meet important personalities who influenced and helped focus my energy.”

In an op-ed written in March on the DVB website former Myanmar Times journalist Clive Parker said, “Using funding and donations from Japan’s Sasakawa Peace Foundation, The Myanmar Times has trained dozens of Burmese journalists to an international standard.” 

Parker’s article titled “A Myanmar Times’ closure would be bad news,” like Dunkley’s letter to diplomats seven years before, was another plea for solidarity with Burma’s only news organization that has some form of foreign ownership. 

Parker citing the paper’s collaboration with the Sasakawa Peace Foundation is an interesting choice to include in a list of reasons that the Myanmar Times should stay open.  In 1931, Sasakawa created the openly fascist Nationalist Masses Party and was subsequently elected to Japan’s war-time parliament.  As a businessman with close ties to the Japanese army, he profited immensely from investments made in Japanese-occupied Manchuria.

At the end of World War II, Sasakawa was arrested by American occupation authorities along with dozens of other senior figures from Japan’s fascist era.  American investigators described Sasakawa as “one of the worst offenders outside the military in developing in Japan a policy of totalitarianism and aggression. He has been squarely behind Japanese military policies of aggression and anti-foreignerism for more than 20 years.”

After three years imprisonment, Sasakawa and most of those classed as Class A war criminals including his friend and future Japanese Prime Minister Kishi were released without trial. Documents subsequently released decades later reveal that US authorities were afraid that Japan was shifting too far to the left and the Truman administration figured that many industrialists and ex-armed forces personal previously declared as war criminals would be useful allies in the war against communism.

Following his release, Sasakawa used his old contacts to establish himself sole proprietor of legalized betting on speed boat racing. His gambling monopoly which began in 1951 lasted for more than four decades and enabled Sasakawa to become one of the wealthiest people in post-war Japan. 

Sasakawa never left his ultra-nationalist roots behind. He was quoted in a 1974 Time Magazine profile describing himself as the "world's wealthiest fascist."  The same article quoted him as boasting that he bedded more than 500 women beginning with "a distant relative of Emperor Taisho to almost all the top geisha."

After his death in 1995, Japan’s largest newspaper, the normally very reserved Yomiuri Shimbun, declared Sasakawa a “monster of modern times.”
Last Updated ( Friday, 09 September 2011 19:59 )  

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