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Junta reportedly planning to restrict Internet access during referendum

(Mizzima/IFEX) - The Burmese military junta is planning to block the flow of information from the country to the outside world by restricting Internet access during the referendum on 10 May 2008, according to a government source.

An official from the Myanmar Communication Department, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Mizzima News that the government is likely to restrict Internet access according to three categories of user or access point: public access centers, access for commercial usage, and access for the hotel and tourism sector.

Authorities plan first to block access from public access centers if information and photographs about the referendum process are leaked onto the Internet, while commercial and official access is likely to remain untouched.

However, if information and images continue to be leaked, the commercial sector may also be cut off.

"In this way, they can easily find out from which source information is being leaked. Moreover, they can avoid criticism from the international community for a news blackout by disconnecting the Internet altogether," said an observer in Rangoon, who monitors the junta's control of the Internet. He added that the government is likely to control the Internet in two ways: by cutting it off completely, and by reducing the bandwidth.

Meanwhile, Internet users in Rangoon and other cities are complaining that Internet speed has slowed drastically.

During the "saffron revolution" of September 2007, Internet-based commercial activities in Burma, including tourism, incurred heavy losses - to the tune of millions of US dollars - when the government blocked the Internet, the main source of information outflow from Burma to the outside world.

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