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Problems with Internet access, international telephone communications coincide with UN mission, reports SEAPA

(SEAPA/IFEX) - Sources in Rangoon are reporting problems accessing the Internet in recent days. Exiled Burmese are also reportedly having a more difficult time than usual in calling into the country.

Slower or unreliable Internet connections and the abnormal telecommunications problems coincide with what has now been a five-day mission into Burma by United Nations Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari. Sources said they have been having problems getting online since Gambari arrived in Rangoon last week. Web-based e-mail services such as Gmail, and voice over IP (VOIP) services such as GTalk and Skype, are technically banned in Burma, but remain popular as Internet-savvy Burmese use proxy servers and other technical strategies to get around government firewalls.

In recent days, however, getting online itself has become problematic, SEAPA's sources inside the country say. Meanwhile, contacts among Burmese exiles say they have been having problems calling into the country.

Gambari is in Burma ahead of a May national referendum to approve or reject a controversial constitution drafted by a government-managed assembly. The United Nations' offers to send observers to monitor the conduct of the referendum have been rebuffed by Burma's ruling junta.

The military government has been restricting and even suspending Internet access - for which state-connected corporations have a monopoly - since the eruption of widespread protests and a harsh government crackdown on activists, students, and religious leaders in September 2007 (for information on prior Internet interference, see IFEX alerts of 8 and 1 November, 11, 9 and 2 October, and 28 September 2007).

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