Daily News-April 19- 2001- Thursday


  • U.S. official sees some hope for change in Burma
  • UN hard on Burma
  • Burmese army placed on military alert for US-Thai joint military exercise
  • Junta troops, Chin group clash in Thangtlang
  • Burma Strives for IT Development
  • Burma's Crude Oil Production Up Slightly in 2000
  • DVB reports firing by "unidentified" group in border area
  • Thai Third Army seizes 7.7m pills in Tak
  • Campaigning for an end to official repression
  • University of Michigan Students Vote to Pull $20 Million from Burmese Junta
  • SSA offer Thai Immigration to pay for illegal shans
  • ADB urged Burma To Implement Growth Reforms
  • Burma: UN Human Rights Commission resolution "unfair"


  • U.S. official sees some hope for change in Burma

    source : Reuters

    WASHINGTON, April 18 ó For the first time in decades, there are signs of the possibility of real political change in Myanmar, one of the world's most isolated countries, a senior U.S. diplomat said on Wednesday.

    ''We are witnessing for the first time in decades some rays of hope,'' said Priscilla Clapp, the charge d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Myanmar, which is also known as Burma.

    Clapp said she saw no signs of an heir apparent to Myanmar's top official, Than Shwe, chairman of the State Peace and Development Council, despite reports of a power struggle between his No. 2 and 3 men, Maung Aye and Khin Nyunt.

    ''I don't see a new leadership coming up behind Than Shwe. This may be the end of a military era,'' she said. ''There's no heir apparent.''

    The most obvious sign of change in Yangon, the capital, is a secret dialogue between the government and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, she said, but there are others, including eased pressure on Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.Between 120 and 150 NLD followers were released from prison recently, and although most were detained only months ago, longer-term political prisoners are also ''trickling out,'' Clapp said.

    Besides, ''the NLD headquarters is operating more freely than it has in a long time,'' she said. The government has eased surveillance of the headquarters and allowed greater freedom of movement for NLD members, she said.

    LANGUAGE CHANGES SUBTLY

    The language and public attitude of the military government has changed as well, Clapp told a breakfast of academics, business people and diplomats sponsored by the Asia Society.

    ''They talk about democracy being their goal, which is a subtle but major change,'' she said. ''Democracy always had some sort of pejorative meaning. ... It always was something that the neocolonial powers were using as an ax against the regime.''

    Clapp said the government was also now using the term ''human rights'' less pejoratively and had admitted there was such a thing in Myanmar as forced labor. The International Labor Organization voted in November to urge governments and international bodies to impose sanctions on Myanmar to compel it to respond to concerns about a system under which rural people are forced to work under inhuman conditions and without pay on government projects such as road building.

    ''These are significant developments (but) they are not irreversible. It's still in a very early stage,'' she said.

    She credited the tenacity of Suu Kyi and the NLD, which in 1990 won Myanmar's last general election but was not allowed to govern. But she also lauded the international community, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

    GOAL OF ''ENGAGEMENT''

    SEAN, which now counts Myanmar among its 10 members, has often been criticized in the West for pursuing ''engagement'' with Yangon rather than imposing sanctions.

    ''ASEAN exercises its pressure in very friendly ways. You may not recognize it as the kind of pressure that the United States would exercise. It's not straightforward. ... I think that's been going on longer than we realize,'' Clapp said.

    She especially praised Razali Ismail, a Malaysian diplomat appointed special representative of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, for working methodically from last July to hear diverse views and establishing a permanent foothold in Yangon.Razali was the only diplomat given access to Suu Kyi for several months after she was put under de facto house arrest in September. Clapp said it helped that Razali was close to Mahathir Mohamad, prime minister of key ASEAN member Malaysia.

    ''It makes it more difficult for the Burmese government to deny him access,'' she said.

    The military has been in charge of Burma since Gen. Ne Win staged a coup in 1962.
    UN hard on Burma

    From the newsroom of the BBC World Service

    The United Nations Commission of Human Rights has formally passed a resolution on Burma welcoming some progress, but expressing grave concern over a number of violations.

    The report's findings had been released about a week ago and came up at the Commission's meeting in Geneva. The resolution welcomed contacts between Burma's military rulers and the National League for Democracy led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

    But it criticised Burma for what it called systematic persecution against the League, as well as gross human rights violations including executions, mass arrests and forced labour.
    Burmese army placed on military alert for US-Thai joint military exercise

    Source: Democratic Voice of Burma

    Text of report by Burmese opposition radio on 16 April

    DVB [Democratic Voice of Burma] has learned that the Army Commander-in- Chief's Office of the SPDC [State Peace and Development Council] Defence Ministry has issued a special order on 14 April to military battalions and companies stationed at the Thai-Burma border.

    According to the order, troops from one superpower nation [USA] and Thai armed forces have planned to hold a joint military exercise [Cobra Gold] near the Thai-Burma border and it is a cunning way to infiltrate into Burmese territory. All the military commands adjacent to Thailand - Triangle Region Military Command, Eastern Military Command, Southeast Military Command, and Coastal Region Military Command, have been warned to be on military alert and awareness.

    The same order warned that the Thai military exercises are no longer routine and have become more advanced and should be monitored continuously while anti-aircraft batteries should also be well manned and used effectively in order to repel any enemy force which could infiltrate the country at anytime.

    Furthermore, reserved military helicopters stationed at the respective military commands should be systematically upgraded as a gunship to be used as a backup force in an emergency situation [sentence as received].
    Junta troops, Chin group clash in Thangtlang

    BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom; Apr 17, 2001

    Text of report by Burmese opposition radio on 16 April

    DVB [Democratic Voice of Burma] has learned that the Chin National Army [CNA] and the SPDC [State Peace and Development Council] forces had a skirmish near a church in Thangtlang Village of Chin State on 1 April.

    The battle took place when the soldiers from SPDC's LIR [Light Infantry Regiment] No. 269 arrived at a prayer meeting held at a Christian Church in Thangtlang where a CNA member was singing a song and playing his guitar. The battle took about 15 minutes and there were no casualties on both sides. When the CNA retreated, officers from LIR 269 came to Thangtlang village and accused the village of aiding and abetting with the CNA. The village elders were made to stand in the sun all day as a mean of punishment.

    Source: Democratic Voice of Burma, Oslo, in Burmese 1430 gmt 16 Apr 01
    Burma Strives for IT Development

    Xinhua, Rangoon 18 April 2001.

    Myanmar has been striving for the development of information and communications technology, working out strategies and policies to meet the challenges arising in this knowledge age and take part in the global competition.

    The Myanmar government is giving encouragement and incentive to investment in the field, especially in education and human resources development for the information technology (IT). In order to create a favorable environment to facilitate cooperation with other countries, the government synchronized its IT principles and codes, enacted necessary laws and standardized criteria.

    The government encourages the private sector's participation not only with the legal enforcement but also with the supporting for institutional development, organizing various seminars and workshops on IT development in collaboration with domestic and international private sector institutions. So far, Myanmar has made some progress in the IT development.

    The state-run Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) is providing data services in the country's two major cities of Yangon and Mandalay with a packet switching system. The MPT said that there are over 2,500 e-mail users in the country and it is preparing to introduce fiber optics long distance systems for high bandwidth requirement in the near future. The country is also speeding up digitization of auto-telephone switches.

    Meanwhile, the Myanmar Education Ministry has been setting up multi-media class rooms in schools and universities, and has successfully introduced nationwide electronic data broadcasting via satellite.

    In cooperation with fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Myanmar joined in signing the e-ASEAN Framework Agreement at the 4th ASEAN Informal Summit in November 2000, pledging to implement the e-ASEAN initiative to strive for providing access to the country's 50 million people having a tele-density of 0.53 per 100 people.

    On the crucial role of the IT, the country believes that IT offers the cost effective and far better efficient business transaction in accelerating economic growth, promoting development, eliminating poverty and promoting the economic integration into the global market. But Myanmar warned that IT revolution also poses challenges and risks as it breaks down information barriers and country borders while it opens all societies to the fierce global competition, challenging the developing countries to build technological capacity and exploit the opportunities offered by the IT revolution.

    It is also possible that certain types of crime are made easier. The country also stressed the need for eliminating the widening disparities between the developed and developing countries, while the rich are moving into the better quality services of IT.
    Burma's Crude Oil Production Up Slightly in 2000

    YANGON, April 18 (Xinhuanet) -- Myanmar produced a total of 3.538 million barrels of crude oil in 2000, 4.27 percent more than 1999, according to the latest data issued by the country's Central Statistical Organization.

    During the year, the country yielded 1.538 billion cubic-meters of natural gas, falling however by 8 percent from 1999. In 1999, the country produced 3.393 million barrels of crude oil and 1.672 billion cubic-meters of natural gas.

    Since Myanmar opened to foreign investment in late 1988, such investment in the oil and gas sector coming from oil companies of Australia, Britain, France, Indonesia, Japan, Thailand and the United States has reached 2.355 billion dollars in 51 projects, taking up 32.2 percent of the country's total contracted foreign investment by sector.

    So far, Myanmar's petroleum and its products are insufficient to meet the demand and the country still has to import 280,000 to 300,000 tons of crude oil and 100,000 to 150,000 tons of diesel oil annually.
    DVB reports firing by "unidentified" group in border area

    BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom; Apr 17, 2001

    Text of report by Burmese opposition radio on 16 April

    DVB [Democratic Voice of Burma] has learned that the townspeople of Myawadi in Karen State were terrified when a group of unidentified armed men fired heavy artillery shells at about 2000 on 15 April. Although there were no destruction it is not known whether there are any casualties. DVB correspondent Maung Tu filed this report.

    [Maung Tu] A Myawadi resident said the firing came from the direction of Ywagyi Camp, the base of the DKBA, Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, which is located inside Burma about three miles opposite Htat Maha Village on the Thai side. Another Myawadi resident said the DKBA fired the heavy artillery last night in order to threaten the BDSC [Border Development Supervisory Committee] so that they will not inspect the blackmarket commodities illegally imported by the DKBA from Thailand.

    The DKBA and the BDSC are at loggerheads and they are frequently having problems with each other.

    On 26 March when BDSC commandant, Maj (?Thant Zin), tried to inspect the trucks owned and run by the DKBA at the checkpoint entering Myawadi, the DKBA members refused to be inspected and pointed their guns at him.

    The authorities are blaming the DKBA for the bomb explosion at Myawadi market on 26 March, while, a bomb discovered near the house of DKBA Maj (?Hla Thar) on 28 March was thought to be the work of the BDSC.

    At the same time, although there are people who believe that it could be the work of the KNU forces, KNU General Secretary Phado Mahn Sha categorically denied their involvement.

    Source: Democratic Voice of Burma, Oslo, in Burmese 1430 gmt 16 Apr 01
    Thai Third Army seizes 7.7m pills in Tak

    source : The Nation

    THE Third Army has seized a record haul of methamphetamine pills from a group of traffickers on the Burma border, army spokesman Col Somkuan Sangpattaranet announced yesterday.

    Some 7.7 million methamphetamine tablets were seized after the Third Army's Naresuan Task Force ambushed a drug caravan protected by unidentified gunmen in Tak province on Monday night, Somkuan said.

    "We believe the drugs belonged to the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army," Somkuan said, adding that the gunmen abandoned the drugs after a brief firefight.

    "Precise intelligence" could be credited for the success of the operation, he said.The drug haul was later transferred to police in Chiang Mai.

    Monday's haul was the country's second-largest drug seizure after 7.8 million methamphetamine pills and 779 kilograms of heroin were found on a boat in the Andaman Sea in January.
    Campaigning for an end to official repression

    source : Amnesty International/18-04-01

    Starting from today, members of Amnesty International around the world will step up their campaign for human rights in Myanmar by lobbying governments and investors to push for human rights improvements there. They will also write appeals directly to the government of Myanmar, urging them to release sick or elderly prisoners of conscience, to improve prison conditions, to stop torture and to halt forced labour.

    "Although the human rights situation in Myanmar remains grave, recent signs that international pressure may be having some effect give us an opportunity to step up the campaign for human rights in the country," Amnesty International said today.

    Reports of ongoing secret meetings between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and members of the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), are a welcome development. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) continues to have access to prisons and labour camps. A year ago the ICRC announced that it had visited over 30,000 inmates in 25 prisons since it gained access in May 1999.

    There have also been prisoner releases in recent months. Over 30 activists were released prior to a visit by the newly appointed UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar in April and another 85 were released before the European Union troika delegation visited in January.

    "Although these releases are a step in the right direction, 1850 political prisoners are still behind bars in various detention centres around the country."

    To begin the campaign, Amnesty International has published its first-ever list of political prisoners*. The cases are a result of over a decade of official repression and include: students, politicians, doctors, farmers, teachers, journalists, writers, lawyers, comedians and housewives, who have been penalized for peacefully demonstrating; distributing or possessing uncensored leaflets or videos; seeking redress for human rights violations; telling jokes; wearing yellow (the colour of the NLD); or talking to foreign journalists.

    Amnesty International is calling on the Myanmar government to immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners held on account of their peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of association and expression .

    "The international community must continue to highlight these concerns at every opportunity. Foreign investors also have a responsibility to ensure that their operations are not contributing to human rights violations."

    Background

    Thousands of political prisoners have been held in detention since large-scale public unrest erupted in Myanmar in March 1988, when demonstrations, initially led by students and Buddhist monks, called for an end to 26 years of military one-party rule. Hundreds were arrested in connection with elections in May 1990, when the National League for Democracy (NLD, the main opposition party led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi) won 60 % of valid popular votes, and 81 % of seats. After the elections, the ruling military authorities did not convene parliament or announce a timetable for the transfer of power to a civilian government, and any subsequent attempts by the NLD and other groups to influence this process have led to widespread arrests and lengthy prison terms.

    Prison conditions are very harsh; prisoners are often shackled and put in solitary confinement for long periods of time, and do not receive proper medical care. Torture has become institutionalized and is used by prison guards, police officers and soldiers against political prisoners, members of ethnic minorities and criminal prisoners. Members of ethnic minorities are still being forced to work on infrastructure projects and carry heavy loads for the military.

    *The list is not comprehensive as access to information on individual cases is difficult to obtain. The list details 458 cases.

    List of political prisoners in Myanmar

    To obtain more information on the campaign, a copy of the list of prisoners or jpeg images of political prisoners, please call Amnesty International's press office in London, UK, on +44 20 7413 5729 or mcatsani@amnesty.org Amnesty International, 1 Easton St., London WC1X 0DW web :
    University of Michigan Students Vote to Pull $20 Million from Burmese Junta

    FBC PRESS RELEASE:
    April 17, 2001

    Victory Comes on Eve of Worldwide Fast for Imprisoned Student Leader

    Ann Arbor, Michigan In yet another strong victory for the Free Burma movement, the Student Assembly at the University of Michigan voted last night that the school should divest of stock in companies that support the illegal military dictatorship in Burma.

    The move follows similar resolutions passed this year at the University of Virginia and Peace College in North Carolina, and a decision at American University to deny a multimillion dollar contract to Sodexo-Marriott, due in part to Marriottís promotion of tourism to Burma.

    This is a huge step in the right direction, and a very important victory for human rights and freedom in Burma. says University of Michigan student William Ho, co-chair of the Environmental Justice Group on campus.

    Michigan students should be able to have a clean conscience, and prevent our tuition money from propping up an illegal regime in Burma.

    The timing of the resolution is significant, as today, April 17, hundreds of students around the world are fasting in solidarity with imprisoned Burmese student leader Min Ko Naing, calling for his release as well as an end of corporate support for the Burmese junta. Students at 95 universities and other schools in ten countries are participating in the 24-hour fast.

    The University of Michiganís decision is especially significant because of the connection to Unocal, the oil company that is being sued in a Los Angeles court over human rights abuses associated with its joint-project in Burma.

    One of Unocalís board members, Marina Whitman, is a business professor at the school. The university also owns millions of dollars of stock in companies like Total/Fina/ELF and Halliburton, two other oil companies involved in the same pipeline project. Supporters of human rights and democracy in Burma have repeatedly called on Whitman to pressure the Unocal board to withdraw from Burma.

    Itís shameful that not only does the university support this illegal regime in Burma, but one of the Unocal board members is actually a tenured professor here.says Ho.
    SSA offer Thai Immigration to pay for illegal shans

    Source : Bangkok Post

    Mae Hong Son---The Shan State Army wants to pay for the release of illegal Shan aliens to replenish its depleting forces, a source said.

    The rebel group had suffered heavy casualties fighting Burmese troops in the past few months.

    Rebel leaders told immigration police in Mae Hong Son they would pay 400-500 baht for each person about to be deported for illegal entry.
    ADB urged Burma To Implement Growth Reforms

    Source : Dow Jones

    BANGKOK--The Asian Development Bank has urged the Government of Burma to introduce structural reforms to help the country boost economic growth and reduce poverty, the bank said in its Asian Development Outlook Thursday.

    "The most urgent challenge facing the government is to achieve rapid economic growth to reduce poverty," the bank said. "If it can initiate a program of policy reform measures and external aid agencies can provide assistance, the economy has the potential to maintain broad-based growth."

    Burma's economy grew 11% in the fiscal year ended March 31, 2000, according to official estimates. Growth was mainly underpinned by a strong agricultural performance due to good weather and the expansion of areas under cultivation.

    However, following an initial liberalization of the economy in 1998 progress has slowed. The ADB warned that unless more comprehensive and consistent structural reforms are undertaken and additional domestic and external resources are mobilized, economic growth will remain sluggish and vulnerable to exogenous factors, such as weather, the regional economic environment and fluctuations in global commodity prices.

    ADB noted that the government should boost investment and savings ratios, which stood at about 12% to 13% in 2000, reduce the budget deficit and promote exports. It also noted the need to strengthen the banking sector and enhance the supervisory and regulatory capacities of the central bank.

    Total exports stood at $1.1 billion in 1999, consisting mainly of primary products but with an increasing share of garments and agro-based manufactured goods. Imports amounted to $2.4 billion resulting in a trade deficit of $1.3 billion in 1999, while the current account registered a smaller deficit of $494 million.

    The country's foreign exchange market also remains highly distorted, the bank said, with a parallel market rate of 460 kyat to the dollar compared to an official rate of MMK6 to the dollar.

    "The policy of multiple and widely divergent foreign exchange rates has to be given up and unification of the exchange rate implemented as soon as possible" to remove the distortion in resource allocation and a strong disincentive to investment, the ADB said.
    Burma: UN Human Rights Commission resolution "unfair"

    BANGKOK, April 19 (AFP)

    Burma's ruling junta Thursday dismissed a resolution by the UN Human Rights Commission that said rights abuses in the country remained at an unacceptable level.

    The resolution, passed without a vote by 53 member countries of the commission in Geneva, said the body was deeply concerned over Burma's continued persecution of the political opposition, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.

    But Burma's ruling junta insisted the resolution failed to accurately portray the situation in the country, particularly because it relied on information supplied by the UN's previous human rights rapporteur.

    The UN's new human rights envoy Paulo Sergio Pinheiro travelled to Burma earlier this month for what the junta called a "constructive" visit, the first time in five years such a visit was allowed.

    "The observations and concerns of the previous special rapporteur, which have lost touch with the current reality in Myanmar, are given undue prominence," Burma's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

    Pinheiro replaced Rajsoomer Lallah, who quit last year having never being given permission to travel to Rangoon.

    In contrast to the outspoken Lallah, Pinheiro is said to have adopted a non-confrontational approach which won plaudits among the notoriously touchy generals in Rangoon.

    The resolution also held up for criticism Rangoon's failure to end the generalised and systematic use of forced labour despite three injunctions by the International Labour Organisation.

    However the commission "noted with satisfaction" contacts between the government and Aung San Suu Kyi as well as the liberation of several political militants.

    Nevertheless, Burma blasted the resolution as an unfair and biased attack that was politically motivated and designed to exert pressure on the government in a counter-productive way.

    "As the resolution is derogatory, unfair and partial, still retaining many negative elements representing policy of strong-armed tactics by a clearly biased group of countries, Myanmar has no other alternative but to have dissociated itself from the resolution."

    The UN commission also called on Burma to stop laying landmines and to end the forced displacement of people.

    Rights groups have singled out the Burmese regime as one of the world's worst human rights offenders.

    The UN Human Rights Commission last year passed a resolution expressing grave concern at the "systematic and increasingly severe" rights violations in the country.