Daily News-April 21- 2001- Saturday

  • From two-way talks to three-way?
  • Human Rights? Most Burmese Have Never Heard of Them
  • Activists Strike Suzuki at New York International Auto Show
  • Thais Protest Construction Of Burma Power Plant
  • Thai Army halts strategic shipment to Wa Army
  • World's biggest pearl found in Burma
  • Thai PM calls on Burma to tackle drug militia

  • From two-way talks to three-way?

    source : The Nation

    Ethnic organisations in Burma want to be included in the 'secret talks' between the military junta and the National League for Democracy, reports Win Htein.

    AFTER six months of "secret talks" in Rangoon between the State Peace and Development Council and the National League for Democracy, two opinions are now widely voiced: immediately declare the results of the meetings, and add ethnic representatives to make a three-way dialogue.

    In March, six ethnic armed groups who signed cease-fire agreements with the ruling junta over the last decade demanding to be involved in the talks. They sent their demand in a letter to Lt Gen Khin Nyunt, first secretary of the SPDC and military intelligence chief, who is in charge of the cease-fire process. The groups were the Shan State Peace Council, the New Mon State Party, the Karenni People's Liberation Front, the Shan People's Liberation Front, the Kayan New State Party and Palong State Liberation Party.

    At the same time, the National Council of Union of Burma - the umbrella group of all dissidents in exile which includes MPs from the 1990 election, armed ethnic armies of the National United Front and student-youth organisations - demanded the latest results of the talks be immediately announced. They stated: "This discussion is for the whole country, not only for two parties. If there is a delay in declaring results, the people's confidence in the meetings will become weaker." However, there has been no reply from the SPDC or the NLD.

    "I have no message for you media!" shouted an NLD executive member in a phone interview. He reportedly meets Aung San Suu Kyi twice a week.

    On March 26, Lt Gen Khin Nyunt met representatives of the six cease-fire groups at Office of Strategic Studies (OSS) in Rangoon. "They discussed matters relating to further strengthening of Union Spirit," said the junta's information sheet.

    But a source from the cease-fire groups said: "Khin Nyunt warned them to silence. It is too early to join in current dialogue."

    On April 9, Khin Nyunt and his OSS officials visited Kachin State, along the China-Burma border where most cease-fire groups are based. U La Mo Tu Jai, new chairman of the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) and officers from several other groups which mutinied against the Communist Party of Burma in the last decade shook hands with the delegation. At the ceremony for the tenth anniversary of the cease-fire deal, Khin Nyunt gave a speech along similar lines - it was still "too early to join in the current dialogue".

    However, a senior official from the KIO claimed most members were no longer content with the government's promises. "We need a political settlement, not just a cease-fire," he said. He confirmed that KIO leaders were pressured by junior officers and community leaders to replace the chairman who signed the cease-fire agreement in 1993.

    "We absolutely support the current dialogue. We also hope that both sides are honest," the KIO official said. "At the same time, we have the same idea as all other ethnic organisations, that is to be involved in future dialogues."

    Obviously, AllPolitical and ethnic groups are facing a crisis on how to comment on the secret talks. They welcome the talks, but they worry about what is happening during them. Some analysts suspect the SPDC is using the secret talks to escape from international pressure, particularly International Labour Organisation sanctions.

    Since the UN special envoy for Burma Razali announced the news, the ILO and all pressure groups have delaying their procedures against Burma. Moreover, the Japanese government decided to give Overseas Development Aid to the SPDC, which has been on hold since the 1988 massacre.

    Last week, a statement from Karen National Union condemned the junta for using the talks in a propaganda war. "The junta is trying to destroy Suu Kyi's will by this way" it said. "All resistance groups and the international community, must be clear on the SPDC's psychological warfare."

    However, many organisations are still hoping that an official joint-statement from the SPDC and the NLD will come out on May 27, the eleventh anniversary of the 1990 election. But they also hoped for an announcement on March 27, Armed Forces Day, and nothing came out.

    Win Htein is a correspondent for the Democratic Voice of Burma.
    Human Rights? Most Burmese Have Never Heard of Them

    source : The Irrawaddy News Magazine
    By Zarni

    April 20, 2001—While Burma’s military-led human rights committee gets set to mark its first anniversary this month, the vast majority of Burmese remain totally unaware of its existence. Few, indeed, are even familiar with the term "human rights", in a country where brutal abuses have been the norm for decades.

    Since its inception nearly twelve months ago, Burma’s human rights committee has been strangely reticent about its presence inside the country, despite its extremely high-profile cast of players. No announcement of its inauguration has yet been made in the state-run press, which normally pays almost sycophantic attention to the daily doings of the country’s ruling generals.

    So far, most of the year-old committee’s exposure has been on the international stage. On April 9, Mya Than, the head of the junta’s official delegation to the 57th session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, announced in Geneva that "The Government has established a steering committee at the highest level, headed by Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt, Secretary One of the State Peace and Development Council, and a human rights committee, headed by Col Tin Hlaing, Minister for Home Affairs."

    Naming these two military heavyweights as Burma’s leading human-rights watchdogs may have been meant to impress the international community, but at home, the move would almost seem calculated to enrage. Both men are widely held responsible for countless human rights abuses that have been perpetrated by secret intelligence units since the military seized power in 1988.

    At the Geneva conference, however, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Prof Paulo Pinheiro, said that he was satisfied with the junta’s 20-member committee. To date, the committee’s brief "exchange of views" with Prof Pinheiro during his visit to Rangoon earlier this month has been it’s sole activity.

    Exiled dissidents, meanwhile, are amazed that anybody could take the junta’s efforts seriously. "How are the generals going to protect human rights in Burma?" asked well-known student leader Moe Thee Zun. "I am skeptical that the committee members are all military men. For the committee to be independent there must be civilians, scholars and activists," he added.

    "They may be just studying the law and procedure. As usual, it's only for show to the international community," remarked Zin Lin, a writer who recently left Burma.

    In an April 17th statement Amnesty International said that their members around the world would step up their campaign for human rights in Burma by "lobbying governments and investors to push for human rights improvements there."
    Activists Strike Suzuki at New York International Auto Show


    Today the NY chapter of the Free Burma Coalition snuck into New York's huge International Auto Show in order to protest Suzuki's involvement in Burma. The International Auto Show, with 80 exhibits, is expected to attract 1.2 million visitors during its 10 day run.

    The activists began their parade at the Suzuki exhibit at 11th Avenue, Manhattan, New York. They plastered themselves, front and back, with "Boycott Suzuki, sidekick to oppression in Burma...." stickers.

    The activists, united in their quest for democracy in Burma, represented many different backrounds - Burmese (including a Buddhist monk), Pa-o and American. From the first moment, prospective buyers were coming up to the band to ask for more information. The group would pause for a moment, explain Suzuki's partnership with Burma's brutal military regime, and then continue to parade circles around the Suzuki vehicles.

    Support from the auto show attendees were apparent as they asked for (and applied) the boycott stickers, showed a fist in solidarity, explained what the group was doing to their children and promised the group not to buy Suzuki.

    After about 45 minutes, as a small number of state troopers was starting to congregate, one plain-clothes state trooper came to the group requesting to speak to the leader. The discussion between the troopers and the leaders, Moe Chan and Zaw Win, attracted even more attention to the protest. As the group was escorted to the door, they were asked not to even tell anyone not to buy from Suzuki if they should re-enter the show without the stickers and told they could continue demonstrating in an almost isolated area across the street.

    For the past four years, company after company has been pulling out of Burma, including Pepsi, Heineken, Phillips, Apple Computers, Arco, Texaco, and Ericsson-- the list goes on and on. Many companies that have pulled out now claim that it is impossible to do business in Burma without supporting the military regime. Upon leaving, Levis Strauss stated "It is not possible to do business in [Burma] without directly supporting the military government and its pervasive violations of human rights." At a time when most foreign corporations are pulling out, Suzuki plans to invest in Burma in October 1998 as the Joint Venture with Myamar Automobile and Diesel Engine Industries (MADI) which is a government entity.

    The investment capital was with the ratio of 60% from Suzuki with the investment of 6.7 million. MADI took a share of 30%, Serge Pun & Associates (Myanmar) invested 5% and Tomen General Trading company 5%. Although United States maintained sanction against military regime since May 1997, Suzuki investors did not pay any attention on the international cry for not investing with Burmese Military Regime.

    Clearly, the government of Burma hopes to attract international investors in order to line its own pockets. Unlike in many countries, where multinational corporations can open a local subsidiary with an independent businessperson, those doing business in Burma must work through the regime and its cronies.
    Thais Protest Construction Of Burma Power Plant

    BANGKOK (AP)--A group of 200-300 Thais staged a protest Friday at a border crossing with Myanmar, concerned that a coal-fired power plant being built in the neighboring country would cause air pollution.

    The protest in Mae Sai, 720 kilometers north of Bangkok, was spurred by the seizure by Thai military authorities earlier that day of 44 truck containers with power generation equipment said to be headed for the Myanmar town of Tachilek, just across the border.

    The equipment was seized because Thailand in February imposed a ban on the export from northern provinces to Myanmar of so-called strategic commodities. The ban was imposed after clashes in the area in early February between Thai and Myanmar troops.Thailand also had temporarily closed the border checkpoint at Mae Sai, but when it later reopened it, the Myanmar authorities kept their side closed.

    The seizure of the trucks inspired the protest because Mae Sai residents had previously been assured that plans to build the power plant in Tachilek had been suspended, said a police officer who monitored the demonstration.The power plant would be reportedly be located just 5 kilometers from the checkpoint.

    The policeman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the demonstrators demanded of the governor of Chiang Rai province, where Mae Sai is located, that the equipment not be allowed to be sent to Myanmar until Thai central and local government officials had negotiated with the authorities in Tachilek to guarantee that the power plant wouldn't harm the environment.
    Thai Army halts strategic shipment to Wa Army

    Source : Bangkok Post

    Mae Sai----The Third Army yesterday blocked the passage to Burma of 44 containers carrying Chinese generators and other material destined for a lignite power plant, said to be partially owned by the United Wa State Army.

    The trailer trucks carrying the containers were stopped by security forces from the Third Army. The convoy rolled into Mae Sai border town on Thursday.

    Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said yesterday that it was unlikely the cargo would be allowed to cross the border since it would help strengthen the Red Wa, who were responsible for the massive production of methamphetamines in plants along the Thai-Burmese border.

    "As long as the UWSA remains directly involved in the production of ya ba(methamphetamine), it's totally unlikely we will give them our assistance or co-operation on any matter," the prime minister said in Chiang Mai where he chaired a tourism seminar.

    A security source said Mr Thaksin had personally instructed Lt-Gen Wattanachai Chaimuenwong, the Third Army commander, not to let the containers cross the border.

    The UWSA is reported to hold partial ownership of the lignite power plant, located about 4km inside Burma's Tachilek border town opposite Mae Sai.

    Construction of the plant is reportedly nearing completion, causing much concern among Mae Sai residents who fear pollution from sulphur dioxide emissions once it begins operating.

    Lt-Gen Wattanachai said the Third Army had full authority to block passage of the containers, shipped directly from China, if the cargo was deemed to be a threat to national security or the environment.

    A security source said a representative from Pathamas Co, which was responsible transporting the cargo from Bangkok to Mae Sai, had tried unsuccessfully to negotiate for passage of the containers.

    "They claimed a senior cabinet member had already given clearance for passage of the containers," said a security officer at Mae Sai.

    However, Col Jongsak Panichkul, a Defence Ministry spokesman, dismissed reports spreading around Mae Sai town that the senior cabinet member mentioned by the firm's representative was Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, deputy premier and defence minister.

    "The defence minister has nothing to do with it and has already advised the Third Army to strictly follow the rule on cross-border transportation of goods," the spokesman said.

    It was also reported yesterday that Lt-Gen Somporn Termthongchai, who is known to have close ties with Gen Chavalit, is the chairman of Pathamas Co.

    The company's executive members include several former senior army officers, the reports said.
    World's biggest pearl found in Burma

    Source : Australian Broadcasting Corp.

    A natural pearl believed to be the world's largest has been discovered in the waters off Burma's southern coast.

    Officials said the saltwater pearl, reportedly comprising 845 carats, was found in an oyster exploration area near Zardetkyi Island.

    The A-F-P newsagency reported the pearl was discovered by the Myanmar Andaman Pearl Company, a joint venture firm partly owned by the ruling military junta, and handed over to the state.

    One of the largest saltwater pearls still in existence is the 450 carat Hope Pearl found in the early 19th century and currently on display at the British Museum of Natural History.
    Thai PM calls on Burma to tackle drug militia

    Source : MSNBC / Reuters

    CHIANG MAI, April 21---Thailand called on Saturday for Burma to help tackle the drugs trade and suggested that Burma take action against an ethnic minority militia group responsible for a flood of narcotics into Thailand.

    Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said Burma's military government appeared confused about its relationship with the United Wa State Army (UWSA) militia group, which has been branded a major producer of heroin and methamphetamines by U.S. and Thai anti-narcotics agencies.

    'There are many different ethnic groups in Myanmar and Yangon is still confused over the roles and relationship with the Wa,'' Thaksin told reporters on the sidelines of a tourism industry meeting in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai.

    'If Yangon thinks the Wa, which we believe is a major drug producer to Thailand, is just a (rebel) ethnic group, that's fine. But if Myanmar accepts that they belong to the country, the Myanmar government must help us handle the drug issue.''

    The Wa are a minority group from northeastern Burma's Shan State.

    The UWSA was formed by Wa fighters who mutinied against their leaders in the anti-government Communist Party of Burma in 1989, set up their own force and then signed a ceasefire agreement with the Rangoon military government.

    The UWSA has helped the Burma's army in its fight against separatist Shan guerrillas but the Rangoon government says it has no control over the actions of its ally.


    Thailand, once notorious for being a major conduit and supplier of heroin, now faces a growing problem with methamphetamines flooding in from Burma.

    Thai anti-drugs agencies have estimated the number of drug addicts may this year reach four million, up from 2.7 million in 1993, and out a population of 62 million, unless more is done to tackle the problem.

    Relations between Thailand and Burma soured earlier this year when their troops clashed at the border and each government traded accusations that the other was supporting the drugs trade.

    But the two countries said they had patched up their differences after a meeting of senior officials earlier this month.

    But their relations hit a new snag on Friday when Thai soldiers in the northern border town of Mae Sai blocked 44 trucks carrying lignite power generation equipment and materials from China destined for the nearby Burmese town of Tachilek.

    Thaksin said on Saturday he had ordered the shipment be halted because Thai security forces believed most of the supplies were bound for the UWSA's headquarters in Mong Yawn, 80 km (50 miles) southwest of Tachilek.

    Thaksin said Thailand was ready to cooperate and let the trucks cross the border into Burma if Rangoon could prove that the equipment belonged to the government, not the Wa.