Daily News-April 13- 2001- Friday

  • Companies Buying Up Burma’s Water Festival
  • Political stability should come 1st
  • Like Father, Like Daughter
  • Refugees from Burma hold protest in Delhi
  • Burma’s human rights committee slow-going
  • Korean ship feared sunk off Japan,body found
  • Appalling Conditions" for Jailed Journalists in Burma
  • The heroin army
  • Bid to aid refugees on border

  • Companies Buying Up Burma’s Water Festival
    source : The Irrawaddy News Magazine
    By Ko Thet

    April 11, 2001-- One of the world’s most repressed countries is getting set to let lose this Friday, as the people of Burma brace themselves for the frenzy known as Thingyan—the water-throwing festival that marks the beginning of the Theravada Buddhist New Year. But as Burmese prepare for this year’s festivities, some say that the event has succumbed to the influence of more than a decade of post-socialist market economics.

    Thingyan, which has long since evolved from a simple purification ceremony into one of the world’s wildest annual events, has become increasingly commercialized, with major companies sponsoring rock concerts and water-throwing stages at popular locales.

    "We have just made a deal with a liquor company. They will take care of all costs, including alcohol. But they will also put up a huge billboard behind our stage," said one cheerful teenager who, together with friends, plans to set up a stage in Rangoon’s Golden Valley area, one of the most happening places to be during the water festival.

    Not everyone is pleased with the way things are working out, however. Fans of Emperor, one of Burma’s most popular rock bands, were disappointed to learn that the group will not be performing this year, thanks to its refusal to accept backing from a cigarette company. "It’s sad that Emperor couldn’t reach a contract deal because of their reluctance to accept cigarette ads," lamented one fan.

    Another top band, Iron Cross, has not made the same mistake: The group will be performing at a concert sponsored by the London Cigarette Company, one of Burma’s most familiar brands. The Vegas Cigarette Company will be following suit with concerts and other events to be staged in Burma’s eight largest cities.

    Critics say that the traditional New Year’s event should be re-named the Beer and Cigarette Festival. "The cigarette and liquor companies, like Vegas, London, 555, Zing Zing, Myanmar Beer, Tiger Beer, Myanmar Whisky, Grand Royal Whisky and others have spent a lot of money to buy the traditional water festival," said one journalist from a weekly journal published in Rangoon.

    One of the reasons more and more people are turning to corporate sponsorship is the growing expense of participating in the festival. Water-throwing stages are a must, and in addition to construction fees and water hoses, the cost of paying off local officials has skyrocketed, as inflation continues to climb.But company-funded stages will not have an exclusive claim to space in the crowded city centers. No major event in Burma would be complete without the presence of the country’s top military brass. Civil servants are forced to donate money to build stages sponsored by government departments, allowing generals in batik shirts to move from stage to stage accompanied by famous actresses, singers and models.

    "All these scenes are televised throughout Thingyan," said one housewife who usually doesn’t go out during the festival. "It’s incredibly annoying for people who just want to stay home and watch television."

    "The Defense Ministry Stage has to be the best," said one reveler. "But many people who go around the city by car feel awkward when they pass this stage, where there are always many heavy security."
    Political stability should come 1st

    source :Yomiuri Shimbun

    Excerpts of address made by Takashi Shiraishi, professor of southeast Asian studies at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University.

    Leaders of Southeast Asian nations expect three things from the Bush administration.

    First, they expect that the new administration, equipped with a strong team of experts in the areas of foreign diplomacy and security, will attach more consideration to political stability of the region, rather than solely demanding that Southeast Asian nations improve their situations in such areas as democracy, human rights and market economy.

    Second, they expect the new admiinistration will offer a "sense of balance."For instance, when United Nations' officials were killed in East Timor, the Clinton administration took a firm stance, calling for suspension of aid to Indonesia.

    In Indonesia, the U.S. position was called into question over whether it was justifiable to bring political and economic havoc to Indonesia, a country with a population of 210 million people, for the sake of maintaining the safety of a region having only 800,000 people. Under the new administration, things will be better on this score.

    Another expectation is that if the U.S. policy toward China changes, while China is gaining clout in the region, the U.S. policy toward other countries,--Myanmar, for instance --may change.

    The new administration's policies toward Southeast Asian countries have yet to be become transparent. There is a good possibility that the new U.S. administration's policies may ruin these expectations.

    For instance, if the U.S. administration attaches too much priority to stability, rather than reforms, purveyors of the old line in these countries may be encouraged.On the economic front, there is also a possibility of giving impetus to nationalism, depending on how the role of the International Monetary Fund is defined.
    Like Father, Like Daughter

    by Aung Zaw
    The Irrawaddy News Magazine:Vol 9. No. 3, March-April 2001

    Sandar Win, 50 something, prefers to be called Dr. Daw Khin Sandar Win. During the BSPP era, Sandar served as a "bridge" between Ne Win and BSPP officials who wanted help from or meetings with her father. During the 1988 uprising, she was unpopular among the general public, as she was suspected of playing a major role in the suppression of the uprising.

    Sandar keeps in contact with Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt, thus she is influential and able to acquire business concessions. Outspoken former deputy minister Zaw Htun, who last year criticized the regime’s economic policy, was not thrown into jail because of Sandar and her connections. Zaw Htun’s father is U San Maung, one of the Election Commissioners during the 1990 election. The former senior civil servant is close to Ne Win’s family.

    Sandar Win is regarded as sharp and calm. A dissident leader recalled having a phone conversation with her. He soon discovered that she was surprisingly cool, despite his strong remarks about her father’s role in the killings in 1988.

    Sandar and her husband run several businesses in Rangoon, including the Nawarat Hotel and the Thai-owned Bumrungrad Hospital, for which they are national representatives.The couple is also involved in the telecommunications business. Sky-Link Communications Ltd, a British Virgin Islands-registered company, planned to install a US$144-million mobile phone system in Burma last year. A local company, Myanmar Sky-Link, was awarded the contract to install the system, which will eventually be transferred to the state-owned Myanmar Post and Telecommunications. The couple has a major share in the company.According to a well-placed source in Rangoon, however, the launch of Sky-Link’s global satellite phone system has been delayed due to conflicts among share holders.

    In June last year, businessman Aik Htein became a managing director of Sky-Link, now opened at Sedona Hotel. Aik Htein is an influential shareholder in Myanmar May Flower Bank, Yangon Holdings and Yangon Airways. May Flower Bank’s chairman Kyaw Win is accused of being connected to drug dealers including former druglord Khun Sa. Aik Htein is believed to be close to ethnic Wa and Chinese businessmen.

    Sandar’s sister, Kyemon Win, keeps her distance from Ne Win. Along with other women painters Kyemon recently held an exhibition in Rangoon.
    Refugees from Burma hold protest in Delhi

    The Asian Age (New Delhi)
    April 12, 2001

    New Delhi, April 11: A group of Burmese refugees on Wednesday held a demonstration in front of the office of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to protest against its proposed cut on their monthly subsistence allowance and other problems faced by the community.

    The UNHCR has recently informed the Burmese refugees that it would cut the monthly allowance of Rs 1400 per month per person to refugees studying theology after the end of the present academic year.

    “This will affect the livelihood of 130 refugees,” the All Burmese Refugees Committee (India), which held the demonstration, said.

    There are about 1,000 Burmese refugees in India under the mandate of the UNHCR.

    The demonstrators also highlighted an incident in Mehrauli last month during which a group of people beat some refugees. One refugees was wrongly accused of kidnapping an Indian child and has been in Tihar jail since March 14, the committee said in a release. (UNI)
    Burma’s human rights committee slow-going

    New Delhi, April 12, 2001
    Mizzima News Group (www.mizzima.com )

    The low-profile human rights committee formed by the Burmese military regime is not going much towards its stated aim of establishing a national human rights institution in the country. The committee’s over-all work is still in its early stage of studying various human rights mechanisms of the United Nations and its members participating in the human rights workshops sponsored by AusAID and Australian consultants, conducted by former Australian human rights commissioner Mr. Chris Sidoti.

    The generals set up a human rights committee in October last year after the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) approved the proposal of the Home Affairs Minister for the formation that was submitted in April 1000.The eventual aim of the committee is stated to be the establishment of a national human rights institution in the military-run country. Secretary I of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt heads the board of patrons with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Home Affairs Minister, the Chief Justice and the Attorney General.

    Col. Tin Hlaing, the Home Affairs Minister of the regime, chairs the 20-member Committee which has outlined three main priorities such as “to study human rights question as a whole, especially activities and mechanisms of the United Nations and regional and national organizations, to study and submit proposals for the establishment of a national human rights institution and to form sub-committees to carry out its work”.It has eight sub-committees such as Home Affairs, Education, Legal Affairs, Health, Labour, Religious Affairs, Social Welfare and International Affairs sub-committees.

    Speaking at the meeting of the heads of the human rights sub-committees in Rangoon on February 9 this year, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs U Khin Maung Win said that his government is committed to having established a national human rights institution in the country although the institution might not meet the Paris Principles in full at first.

    Prof. May May Yi, Vice Chair of the government-sponsored Myanmar National Committee for Women’s Affairs said that women’s equality was recognized in Burma both in customary law and into constitutions since independence. Dr. Khin Win Shwe, another member of the National Committee for Women’s Affairs added that “violence against women occurs in Burma but it is not a big issue”. According to her, out of the survey their committee have done covering 80% of townships, between 3 and 15% of women in those townships were affected by physical violence and slightly more by mental violence. The causes of the violence included parental problems, alcoholism, adultery and family disharmony.
    Korean ship feared sunk off Japan,body found

    TOKYO, April 12 (Reuters) - Rescue officials found a body during a search for a Korean ship missing off southwestern Japan, raising fears the cargo vessel foundered in heavy seas with 28 crew on board, Japan's coast guard said on Wednesday.

    "Given the facts, we have to conclude that the ship has probably sunk," a coast guard spokesman said. The 22,725-tonne Korean-registered Honghae Sanyo vanished with a cargo of gravelin heavy winds and high seas late on Tuesday after failing to pick up a navigator en route to a port in Hyogo, some 700 km (432 miles) southwest of Tokyo. No distress signal was received.

    A coast guard spokesman said that a body, believed to be that of a crew member, was discovered late on Wednesday near Cape Muroto on Japan's smallest main island of Shikoku during a search by planes and patrol boats.

    Six empty lifeboats and rubber rafts, one with the name of the ship on its side,have also been found, the spokesman said.

    "But we have yet to discover any other members of the crew," he added. Six were from Korea and 22 from Myanmar.

    While the reason for the accident has not been determined, a strong wind warning was in effect when the ship disappeared, indicating it may foundered in high seas, the spokesman added.
    Appalling Conditions" for Jailed Journalists in Burma
    source : Mizzima News Group
    Paris, 9 April 2001

    The World Association of Newspapers and World Editors Forum have called on Burma to immediately release journalists San San Nweh and U Win Tin, who are to receive the Golden Pen of Freedom award at the World Newspaper Congress and World Editors Forum in Hong Kong in June.

    The two journalists both suffer health problems and are being held in appalling conditions, the Paris-based organisations said in a letter to General Than Shwe, head of the Myanmar State Peace and Development Council, as the military government of Burma is known.

    The imprisonment of San San Nweh and U Win Tin "constitute a deep blemish on the international standing of Myanmar which can only be erased by their release," said the letter, signed by WAN President Roger Parkinson and WEF President Ruth De Aquino.

    San San Nweh, imprisoned in 1994 for "anti-government reports" and U Win Tin, who was jailed in 1989, are the winners of the 2001 Golden Pen of Freedom, the annual WAN press freedom prize.

    The award, which was made in recognition of their outstanding contribution to the cause of press freedom, is to be presented on 4 June at the 54th World Newspaper Congress and 8th World Editors Forum in Hong Kong, the annual meetings of the world's press.

    Dissident writer San San Nweh, 57, was editor of two journals ­ Gita Ppade-tha and Einmet-hpu ­ and is a novelist and poet.She was imprisoned for ten years in August 1994 for "anti-government reports" to French journalists and for "providing information about the human rights situation to the UN special rapporteur for Burma."

    She is reportedly sharing a tiny cell with three other political 'convicts' ­ forced to squat because of lack of head room, and allowed to talk for only 15 minutes a day. She is suffering from liver disease, arthritis, partial paralysis and eye problems.

    U Win Tin is the former editor of the daily Hanthawati newspaper, vice-chair of the Burmese Writers Association and a founder of the National League of Democracy, Burma's main pro-democracy party, whose landslide election victory in 1990 was not recognised by the military regime. He was arrested in 1989, tried in a closed military court and sentenced to 14 years in prison for allegedly being a member of the banned Communist Party of Burma. He has now served 11 years of that sentence.

    According to information received by WAN, U Win Tin was crippled by prison guards who beat him severely and repeatedly when he was being held in the notorious Insein Prison. Accused of smuggling out letters detailing the conditions in the prison, he was transferred to a former guard-dog kennel and kept in solitary confinement for just under a year, until he was sentenced to an additional five years imprisonment for possessing writing materials. In 1997, on the verge of death, U Win Tin was transferred from Myingyan Jail to Rangoon General Hospital. According to reports, he is still in jail and his sentence will only expire in 2008.

    WAN, the global association of the newspaper industry, has awarded the Golden Pen annually since 1961. Past winners include Argentina's Jacobo Timerman (1980), Russia's Sergei Grigoryants (1989), and Vietnam's Doan Viet Hoat (1998). The 2000 winner was Nizar Nayouf of Syria.

    Editors: Photos and more information are available for use from the WAN website, www.wan-press.org/golden_pen/campaign2001/launch.html.
    The heroin army

    source :Scottish Daily Record

    Burma's vicious generals claim to fight drug trade. But they stand accused of being pushers to half the world.THE world's biggest heroin dealer is not a gangster, but a government.

    When a Scot injects the drug, it's a fair bet that a member of the military junta in Burma makes a killing. Burma's generals tell the world they are fighting heroin. But at the same time, the Asian pariah state produces HALF the world's supply of the drug.

    Many believe the military do not just turn a blind eye to the trade. They stand accused of controlling it and profiting from it. One farmer told how officials from the junta ordered him and his neighbours to stop growing rice and plant opium poppies, the source of heroin, instead.The military then taxed their crop and took away the harvest.

    One local chief who complained about a general's involvement in heroin was tortured for 56 days.He was held upside down with an electric wire attached to his private parts. The general himself took charge.

    Burma trumpets its "war on drugs" by ceremonially torching opium fields. But a farmer who has seen such displays said: "They select the poorest harvest to burn. The rest remains and the tax is collected."

    Army officers in neighbouring Thailand laugh at Burma's pretence. One said: "The junta is two-faced and lies. Burma is the only place in the world where the government runs a narcotics business."

    Foreign Secretary Robin Cook has accused Burma of colluding in the heroin trade.

    Burma's heroin king is named as "businessman" Lo Sing Han. He has a string of companies in capital Rangoon, all believed to be built on drug money.For one firm, a plastic bag factory, Lo imports tons of a chemical also used to turn opium into heroin. America calls him a "narco-terrorist". Observers say Lo, and many others, bribe the generals to help their businesses. Soldiers serve as bodyguards for Lo, and his son's wedding in 1995 attracted five cabinet ministers and three other generals.

    The junta does not make it difficult to smuggle heroin into Thailand or China.From there, it moves on to our communities, often through the US. The other heroin route out of Burma is through India, into Iran and up through the Balkans into Eastern Europe before following the path through Holland or France to Britain.

    Burma has become even more vital to the trade since Afghanistan's Taliban regime declared heroin "un-Islamic" and burned most of the country's poppy fields.

    "China White" heroin from Burma is far more likely to be injected than "Afghan Brown", which is often smoked. That puts users at risk of AIDS and hepatitis.

    Generals have run Burma, a former British colony, since just after the democratic opposition won elections in 1990.The country has a horrific human rights record. There are 1700 political prisoners and the junta uses forced labour and censorship to terrorise its own people.

    But perhaps its greatest crime is poisoning the rest of the planet with heroin.
    Bid to aid refugees on border

    source : The Nation

    THE International Organisation of Migration (IOM) has proposed that it be allowed to establish a presence on Burma's side of the Thai-Burmese border to monitor the repatriation of Burmese refugees and displaced people to ensure they are treated correctly. The proposal was presented by IOM director-general Bruson McKenley to Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai yesterday.

    Surakiart said he would discuss the proposal with his Burmese counterpart, Win Aung, when he visits Rangoon later this month.

    "We can't send them [refugees] to a third country because no one would take them in," Surakiart said. "We can't send them back to their country because they have nothing to eat. [If someone wants us] to help, well, our economy is in bad shape."

    McKenley proposed that the IOM could make available its micro-credit scheme to create jobs for the returnees in order to make their repatriation sustainable, Surakiart said.

    More than 100,000 people from Burma, most of whom are ethnic Karens, are residing in scores of refugee camps along the border on the Thai side. They have been displaced by the continuing civil war between Burma's military government and ethnic armies fighting for autonomy.

    Human rights groups accuse the Burmese junta of carrying out forced relocations to prevent villagers from helping the rebel armies.