Daily News-April 09- 2001- Monday

  • Burma says tackling currency, price woes
  • Situation of illegal women migrant workers from Burma in Thailand
  • Shan rebels report attack on junta base
  • Burma may open crossing
  • World's largest and oldest teak tree inspected
  • Japan Plans Y3B-Y3.5B Grant For Burma Power Station
  • Chavalit proposes to help develop Burma
  • Price of heroin triples in Burma after poor opium harvest
  • Burmese Official Predicts Further Fall In Opium Output
  • Burma's Suu Kyi Served Summons Over Property Dispute

  • Burma says tackling currency, price woes

    By Jalil Hamid

    KUALA LUMPUR, April 8 (Reuters) - Military-ruled Myanmar wants to boost exports and food production to tackle inflation and a thriving black market in its currency, a senior government official with responsibilities for economic management has said.

    Myanmar was making efforts to sustain the "remarkable" economic growth seen in recent years, the official, who declined to be identified, told Reuters in an interview on Saturday.

    He said Myanmar's economy was estimated to have grown "at least eight percent" in the fiscal year to March 2001, fuelled by the agriculture and energy sectors, but gave no comparison for 1999/2000. The growth came off a very low base, however.

    Western analysts say the country's economy is far from robust.

    Myanmar's ruling generals took tentative steps to open up the economy, after 26 years of isolation and central planning, at the end of the 1980s, after they suppressed a pro-democracy uprising. But the country, which is rich in natural resoures and was once one of the region's top rice producers, remains one of the poorest in Asia.

    Many foreign aid donors and investors are reluctant to get involved in Myanmar because of its poor human rights record.

    Among the country's economic problems are hyperinflation and the collapse of the kyat currency, analysts say. The official exchange rate is six kyat to the U.S. dollar, a level fixed for more than 30 years, but the black market rate is near 600.

    "We are aware there is a large gap between the official exchange rate and the prevailing market rate," the official said on the sidelines of a meeting of southeast Asian finance ministers in Malaysia's capital.

    "In order to lessen the speculation as well as to increase the foreign exchange reserves, the focus is now on export promotion," he said. He said the government had permitted cross-border trade to be conducted in kyat and the currencies of neighbouring countries, as well as U.S. dollars. Earlier, such trade was allowed only in dollars.

    But the time was not yet appropriate to introduce a unified rate of the kyat, he said, with limited forex reserves a factor.

    Government figures show inflation has fallen sharply to about 3.4 percent, from a peak of 30 percent in the mid-1990s, he said.

    "In order to (further) contain inflation, the government has taken measures which include cutting unproductive expenditures and increasing sales of Treasury bonds." Cheap loans to spur large-scale agriculture projects and the making of import-substitution goods are another step.
    Situation of illegal women migrant workers from Burma in Thailand

    source : The Nation

    Illegal labourers - mostly Burmese - left their country for political reasons, or due to internal fighting and insecurity. Recent reasons are more economic. To escape hardship in their home country, they find work as unskilled labourers in the 'three Ds': dirty, difficult and dangerous jobs in Thailand.

    With little knowledge of the country to which they are moving and working, its language and its laws, women migrating from Burma are in vulnerable position. Labour exploitation, sexual assault by their employers and law enforcement officers, abuse of power during detention and deportation against illegal migrant women in Thailand are systematically documented.

    Despite the high incidence and reportage of abuses against women migrant workers from Burma, the victims are not often afforded any legal redress. If they complain to police, they are simply arrested, charged with illegal entry and deported to a remote location along the Burmese border.

    Women repatriated to Burma as sex workers can be charged for both illegal departure and prostitution, with sentences of up to three years imprisonment.

    Source: The Human Rights Yearbook Burma 1999-2000, printed at Government Printing Office,National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma.
    Shan rebels report attack on junta base

    Subin Khuenkaew
    The Bangkokpost-08/04/01

    The Shan State Army attacked a Burmese military base opposite Mae Sai district yesterday and claimed to have killed two soldiers and wounded many others.

    Shan military leader Col Korn Juen said his men laid siege to the Burmese position at Palang Luang, opposite Ban Pahi in Mae Sai, and bombarded it with light and heavy gunfire. The assault lasted about one hour, he said.

    When the SSA retreated, Burmese soldiers gave chase and another clash occurred at Palang Noi, about 2km from Palang Luang. An assistant village headman and a child were killed in the cross-fire.

    "SSA troops will keep on harassing Burmese positions every day until all are withdrawn from our area," Col Korn Juen said.

    Col Akkadej Songworawit, commander of the Third Cavalry Regiment Task Force, said clashes took place almost daily opposite Mae Sai and Mae Fah Luang districts, but had no effect on the agreement reached by Thailand and Burma at the recent Regional Border Committee meeting in Kengtung.
    Burma may open crossing

    source: The Bangkokpost

    Tachilek very short of essential supplies

    Burma may open its checkpoint at Tachilek, opposite Mae Sai, before the Songkran holiday as it has run out of essential commodities, unconfirmed reports indicated.

    The reports from various sources said Burmese authorities may open the crossing, closed since early February, on Tuesday or Wednesday to allow their people to buy fuel and food.

    Goods imported from China are available in Kengtung, Taunggyi and Mandalay, but Tachilek is too far away from the Chinese border. Commodity prices in Tachilek have soared, according to the reports.

    The military government has offered to open the Tachilek checkpoint on the condition Thailand allows the sale of "strategic goods" such as fuel, rice, medicines, vehicles and vehicle spare parts. Thai authorities want the ban on these products to remain, fearing the availability of certain products could lead to a resumption of fighting along the border.

    Sermchai Kittirattanapaiboon, chairman of the Chiang Rai Chamber of Commerce, said he would like to see activities arranged to promote relations between the people of Mae Sai and Tachilek. The township border committee meeting between the two sides should be held once a month and the regional border committee meeting once every three months, he said.
    World's largest and oldest teak tree inspected

    source : NLM

    Yangon, 7 April-The world largest and oldest teak tree is in Block 90, Baw forest reserve in Pyin Oo Lwin Township. It measures 24 feet 7 inches in girth, 188 feet in height and 31 feet in girth at the bottom according to measurement taken on 6 April 2001.

    It is assumed to be 600 years old. Minister for Forestry U Aung Phone accompanied by officials inspected the tree on 6 April and fulfilled the needs to take care of it.
    Japan Plans Y3B-Y3.5B Grant For Burma Power Station

    Source : Dow Jones

    TOKYO (Dow Jones)--Japan's Foreign Minister Yohei Kono told visiting Burmese Deputy Foreign Minister Khin Maung Win Monday that Japan will provide Burma with a grant to repair a hydroelectric power station, an official at Japan's foreign ministry said.

    Although Kono didn't specify the amount of the grant, the official estimated it between Y3 billion and Y3.5 billion.

    Japan will send a mission in the near future to Burma to examine the Baluchaung No. 2 station, which is located near the border with Thailand. Following the study, it will likely take two to three years to conduct repair work, the official said.

    The members and schedule of the mission haven't been decided yet, he added.

    The Baluchaung No. 2 station has a generation capacity of 168 megawatts, which can cover 20% of Burma's total electricity demand.
    Chavalit proposes to help develop Burma

    Source : Bangkok Post

    Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh will push for development in Burma, including a port and a coal mine, as a means of helping solve the problems of drug trafficking, illegal migration and other cross-border crime.

    "I would like to see our neighbouring country become prosperous at the same time as we do," Gen Chavalit said.

    "If we are developed while our neighbour continues to live in poverty, then peace will not be possible.

    "This is a feeling from the bottom of my heart."

    He termed the idea "cross border development".

    It was already under way, he said, pointing to the 10-billion-baht Thai project to dam the Salween river in Burma. This would also benefit Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai in terms of power and water supply.

    In an interview in the Defence Ministry magazine, Gen Chavalit said he planned to help Burma develop a port in the Gulf of Martaban, opposite Mae Sot in Tak province.

    The port would open Burma to the Andaman Sea. China would also participate in the project, he said.

    A large coal mine was also planned, opposite Bang Saphan district of Prachuap Khiri Khan province, in which Japan was interested.

    "If we help them develop their country, the problems of drugs, illegal labour migration and cross-border crime will disappear," Gen Chavalit said.

    The defence minister also said the armed forces would have to take on a diplomatic role to boost the bilateral relationship.

    "Defence diplomacy will create good understanding and a brotherhood between military key figures of both sides," Gen Chavalit said.
    Price of heroin triples in Burma after poor opium harvest

    Source : Australian Broadcasting Corp.

    Burma's military government says the street price of heroin has tripled in the country after the poorest opium production season in more than a decade.

    A spokesman for the Office of Strategic Studies intelligence agency said drug eradication efforts, bad weather and pests have slashed the opium poppy harvest.

    He said the latest opium yield survey showed a 31 percent decrease in cultivation and 38 percent decrease in opium production.
    Burmese Official Predicts Further Fall In Opium Output

    Rangoon (AP)--Opium production in Burma will fall again over the next year due to eradication efforts and bad growing conditions, a top Burmese anti-drug official said Monday.

    According to the U.S. State Department, Burma - currently accounts for approximately 80% of Southeast Asia's opium production and 20% of the world's production, second only to Afghanistan.

    Col. Kyaw Thein, the military intelligence officer coordinating Burma's anti-drug effort, said at a press briefing Monday that the yearly U.S.-Burma opium survey has showed a substantial annual drop in opium production since 1997, with output dropping to its lowest level since 1988.

    As a result he said, the price inside Burma of heroin, which is derived from opium, has increased 233% over the past year. One kilogram of heroin, which last year cost 1,500,000 kyats (about US$3,000 at the free market rate of exchange, or US$250,000 at the official rate) in Yangon now costs 5,000,000 kyats (US$10,000 at the free market rate, or US$833,333 at the official rate), he said.

    Burma's government figures showed opium output at 599 metric tons in 1998, 404 metric tons in 1999 and 357 metric tons in 2000.

    In its latest survey of world drug output, the U.S. State Department agrees that "since 1996 ... opium production has declined sharply to levels that are now less than half of Burma's annual production during the early 1990s."

    However, it put 1999 opium production at 1,090 metric tons and 2000 production at 1,085 metric tons. Burma's officials in the past have said they consider the U.S. figures to be greatly inflated and based on faulty extrapolations of data.

    Burma's authorities have destroyed more opium poppy plantations and seized more drugs due to stricter enforcement, Kyaw Thein said.

    "The military in the Shan States of northern Myanmar have stepped up law enforcement and instructions have been given to local ethnic leaders since October last year to stop growing poppies in the region," he said. "Stricter enforcement resulted in the destruction of more poppy cultivation."

    He also told reporters that due to drug elimination efforts by ethnic leaders and the declaration of "Opium Free Zones" in poppy cultivation regions, as well as bad weather and infestation by insect pests, opium production will decline this year.

    More than 26 million psychotropic drug tablets were seized in 2000 and 4 million tablets were seized in the first three months of 2001, said Kyaw Thein.

    Burmese authorities have destroyed 8,497 hectares of opium poppy plantations this year compared with 4,395 hectares in 2000.
    Burma's Suu Kyi Served Summons Over Property Dispute

    Rangoon (AP)--A court summons was served to Burma's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi Monday to answer a suit filed by her estranged brother for administration of the Rangoon property where she lives, the brother's lawyer said.

    The summons was delivered by a court clerk at Suu Kyi's house in Rangoon, said Han Toe, lawyer for Suu Kyi's elder brother Aung San Oo, who filed the case last week.

    It was not immediately clear if Suu Kyi had accepted it. The case goes before the Rangoon Division Court April 23.

    Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her democracy struggle, has been confined to her home since Sept. 22 after defying a travel ban imposed by the Burmese military regime.

    A previous case filed by Aung San Oo for partition of the property was dismissed in January on the grounds that a claimant seeking partition of a property must apply for administration of it first.

    Suu Kyi did not appear in person in court for the first case but was represented by her lawyers and agent. She had refused to accept the summons for that case, so it was posted instead on the gate of the property.

    Aung San Oo is an American citizen living in San Diego, California and is believed to disagree with Suu Kyi's political views. According to sources close to the family, Suu Kyi believes the property dispute should be settled out of court.

    The property under dispute is a nearly one-hectare (two-acre) estate with a two-story house which was given by the government to Suu Kyi's mother Khin Kyi, widow of independence hero General Aung San who was assassinated in 1947. Khin Kyi died in December 1988. Suu Kyi has lived there for the past 12 years.

    Under the Burma's Buddhist law, an inherited property should be equally divided among the siblings. But another law forbids foreigners from purchasing or selling property.

    The earlier property case was believed to have the tacit approval of the government. Its dismissal appeared to show that the junta was making an effort to keep the atmosphere conducive for the secret talks with Suu Kyi going on since October. Courts in Burma are controlled by the government.

    Suu Kyi's party swept general elections in 1990, but the military refused to accept the result and never convened a parliament. Both sides have declined to divulge details of the recent talks, which have offered hope of a political reconciliation after 10 years of deadlock.