Daily News-April 23- 2001- Monday

  • Burma Currency Tumbles To New Low
  • Seven Burmese troops reportedly slain in guerrilla attack
  • Mortar Hits Thailand After Karen Rebels Clash Near Border
  • Burma's Trade with Five Western Countries Up in 2000
  • Karens Attack Burmese Army Camp
  • Thai Village Evacuated After Rebel Fighting In Burma
  • Thailand To Query Burma Over Power Plant Project Near Border
  • Burma denounces rebel fighters as "drug bandits" after deadly raid
  • Burma court adjourns Suu Kyi house case to May 2
  • Thai General says Thai electricity runs Burma drug plants

  • Burma Currency Tumbles To New Low

    YANGON, Myanmar (AP)--Myanmar's ailing currency, the kyat, hit a record low Sunday, trading at 610 to one U.S dollar, about 100 times the official exchange rate,dealers said.

    The official exchange rate remains about 6 kyats to the dollar, but most business and consumer transactions are based on the rate quoted on the black market, which is tacitly tolerated by the government as necessary to carry on business.

    The free-market exchange rate, which had eased down steadily from 434 kyats to the dollar at the beginning of 2001, has slid quickly since February when the kyat fell to 500 to the dollar.

    Currency dealers are unable to explain the reasons for the kyat's latest dip but the government usually blames rumor-mongers and market manipulators for currency instability.However, the downward trend clearly reflects the military government's failure to boost a sluggish economy. In the past month, there has been added market skittishness because Thailand restricted trade along the border with Myanmar after a series of clashes between Thai and Myanmar troops.

    "I am worried I might get into trouble," said a nervous money changer dealer, who declined to be identified. The authorities usually react to sudden slumps in the kyat's value with warnings to the black-market dealers or by sometimes temporarily detaining them, while running commentaries in the state-run press denouncing "avaricious" business people for currency manipulation.

    The drop in the currency's values has made imported goods more expensive, with a slight knock-on effect on local commodities.

    The value of official Foreign Exchange Certificates, special financial instruments issued by the government to try to keep some control over currency exchanges, has also fallen. The certificates, which traded at 480 kyats to the dollar early this month, were selling for 580 kyats Saturday.

    The kyat eased down steadily from 320 to the dollar at the beginning of 2000, especially after government servants were given a fivefold pay raise in March last year. In January, the state-controlled media said the public should not worry about the value of the currency because the nation is self-sufficient and had abundant resources.But most outside observers believe Myanmar's economy is on shaky ground. Myanmar, also known as Burma, is one of the region's poorest countries.

    Last week, the Asian Development Bank has urged Myanmar's military government to introduce structural reforms to help the economy grow and to reduce poverty.
    Seven Burmese troops reportedly slain in guerrilla attack

    BANGKOK (Reuters) - Seven Myanmar soldiers were killed in an early Sunday attack on their camp by separatist Shan guerrillas in northeastern Myanmar's Shan State, Thai military sources said.

    Shan State Army guerrillas captured the Myanmar army outpost at Tuan, opposite the Thai town of Fang, some 700 km (420 miles) north of Bangkok, and seized about 170,000 methamphetamine tablets, the Thai sources said.

    Nearly 500 Thai villagers were evacuated from their homes in Fang after the clash due to fears of an upsurge in fighting between the Shan rebels and Myanmar forces, Thai authorities said.

    In another incident, two members of a Myanmar ethnic minority militia allied with the military government were killed on Sunday in an attack by unidentified rivals in the east Myanmar border town of Myawady , Thai military sources said.

    "At around 4:00 am (2100 GMT) an unidentified rebel group, armed with rifles and mortars, opened fire on the DKBA troops for about half an hour," said a Thai military source based on the Myanmar-Thai border. Two fighters from the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) were killed and two wounded in the attack. Two villagers were also wounded, the Thai sources said.

    The DKBA and Myanmar government forces fight the autonomy-seeking Karen National Union (KNU) guerrilla army in that part of eastern Myanmar but the KNU had not claimed responsibility for the attack, the Thai sources said.

    Thai military authorities closed the border crossing between the Thai town of Mae Sot, about 500 km (300 miles) northwest of Bangkok, and Myawady after the attack. The area of the attack is believed to be one of Myanmar's main areas for producing illegal methamphetamines, which have been flooding into Thailand in recent years.

    Thai military sources say the DKBA, formed by a KNU splinter faction in 1994 after a split in the Christian-led, anti-Yangon group, is involved in the drugs trade.

    In a related development, Thai authorities ordered a convoy of trucks trying to take power-generation equipment to the northeast Myanmar town of Tachilek to return to Bangkok, Thai media reported on Sunday. Thai authorities stopped the convoy crossing from the northern Thai town of Mae Sai into Tachilek last week because they believed the power equipment was bound for another Myanmar minority militia group blamed for large-scale drug production.

    Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said on Saturday he had ordered the convoy of trucks carrying the equipment to return to Bangkok as Thai security forces believed most of the supplies were bound for the United Wa State Army (UWSA) militia group.

    Relations between Myanmar and Thailand soured earlier this year when their troops clashed at the border near Mae Sai and their governments traded accusations of support for the drugs trade. The UWSA, which is allied with the Myanmar army, has been branded a major producer of heroin and methamphetamines by U.S. and Thai anti-narcotics agencies.
    Mortar Hits Thailand After Karen Rebels Clash Near Border

    MAE SOT, Thailand (AP)--A stray mortar shell landed in Thailand when rival ethnic Karen armies clashed for about one hour near the Thai-Myanmar border early Sunday, a Karen rebel spokesman and Thai villagers said.

    The mortar hit a jetty on the Moei river, 2 kilometers ) south of the Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge, which is located at Mae Sot, 370 kilometers northwest of Bangkok.No Thais were injured, Thai villagers said.

    David Tarkabaw, spokesman for the Karen National Union, said a KNU battalion attacked and briefly seized a small hilltop camp of the rival Democratic Buddhist Karen Army on the Myanmar side of the river border. He claimed the camp was used as a transit point for trafficking methamphetamine drugs to Thailand.

    The KNU battalion overran the camp but soon withdrew. One DKBA soldier was killed and four injured in a one hour exchange of fire with assault rifles and M-79 grenade launchers. Two KNU soldiers were wounded in the fighting, Tarkabaw said.

    Officials at Mae Sot hospital said two DKBA women civilians were sent from Myanmar for treatment. Other Thai officials declined to comment about the clash.Myanmar officials weren't immediately available for comment.

    The DKBA is a pro-Myanmar army that was set up by disgruntled KNU fighters. The KNU has been fighting for autonomy in Myanmar, also known as Burma, for five decades. It still wages a resistance war against the Myanmar military regime along the Thai-Myanmar border.
    Burma's Trade with Five Western Countries Up in 2000

    YANGON, Apr 20, 2001 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- Bilateral trade between Myanmar and five western industrialized countries -- France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom (U.K.) and the United States (U.S.) -- totaled 614.2 million U.S. dollars in 2000, up 16 percent from 1999, according to the latest government-issued Economic Indicators.

    Of the total, Myanmar's import from the five countries amounted to 326.2 million dollars, while its export to them was valued at 288 million dollars.

    The bilateral trade between Myanmar and the five western countries during the year accounted for15 percent of Myanmar's total foreign trade.

    Of them, Myanmar's bilateral trade with Japan represented the highest volume with 265.61 million dollars or 6.5 percent of Myanmar's total foreign trade, followed by that with U.S. 260.4 million dollars or 6.3 percent, with U.K. 39.41 million dollars or 0.96 percent, with Germany 24.8 million dollars or 0.6 percent.

    Though there was import from France with 24 million dollars, the export to that country was nil.

    Japan stands as Myanmar's fourth largest trading partner after Singapore, China and Thailand.

    In 2000, Myanmar's total foreign trade, including the border trade, totaled 4.086 billion dollars, of which imports were valued at 2.567 billion dollars, while exports amounted to 1.519 billion dollars.The trade deficit stood at 1.048 billion dollars.
    Karens Attack Burmese Army Camp

    source : The Irrawaddy News Magazine
    By Min Zin

    April 22, 2001 - A special force of the Karen National Union (KNU), Brigade No. 6, launched a dawn attack on the Hwe Moat camp, where Burmese military troops and a pro-junta splinter Karen group are jointly based, according to Karen and Burmese sources on the border. The area is only two kilometers away from the Thai-Burma Friendship Bridge also known as Myawaddy-Mae Sot Bridge in Mae Sot, Tak province.

    At about 4am this morning, 30 Karen commandos equipped with rocket launchers and other automatic rifles attacked the camp. A fierce battle broke out and lasted for one hour and claimed the lives of one Burmese solider and one civilian. Four Burmese soldiers and a 9-year old girl were also seriously injured and have been hospitalized.

    "We heard the sound of continuous gunfire and explosions from the Myawaddy Bridge for about 20 minutes early this morning. Immediately, we suspected that there was heavy fighting between Thai and Burmese troops. We were all very worried." explained Min Naing, a Burmese teashop owner in Mae Sot.

    According to KNU officials, the Karen forces that raided the camp laterretreated to the jungle. They confiscated one AK 47 automatic rifle, one M16 rifle and a wireless radio from the Burmese soldiers.

    "We have suspected that the Hwe Moat Camp is a base for the Burmese military, a Karen splinter group and a Chinese drug lord who is distributing drugs and the smuggling Ya Ba (methamphetamine) to Thailand. That's why we launched the attack", explained Mahn Sha, the General Secretary of the KNU.

    Observers in Mae Sot, however, noted that there has been cooperation between Thais and Karens on the drug prevention issue for a couple of years. "The KNU have set up a drug eradication force with Thai help. This latest attack was just one signal showing that the existence of KNU along the Thai-Burma border is beneficial to the Thai national interest, which is now mainly defined by the drug eradication issue", commented one observer in MaeSot.

    However, people living on both sides of the border are worried about possible acts of revenge by the Burmese military. "The Burmese military is now very upset. They will assault innocent people. They might also retaliate by assassinating KNU leaders", Mahn Sha said.

    It is very likely that the Burmese regime will accuse Thailand of turning a blind eye to what happened this morning. So far, local Thai officials have avoided making any public statement on the attack.

    The KNU makes frequent attacks on Burmese military bases - at least five to ten times a year. The KNU, an ethnic armed group which has been fighting for self-determination and has been based along the Thai-Burma border for more than 50 years, has not reached a cease-fire agreement with the junta.
    Thai Village Evacuated After Rebel Fighting In Burma

    BANGKOK (AP)--Thai authorities evacuated a tribal village on its northern border with Burma to protect them from fighting between Burma's troops and ethnic rebels, officials said Monday.

    About 500 tribespeople in Ban Nolae village in the hills of Chiang Mai province were temporarily moved to a low-lying area Sunday, Arthit Chittangkul, the administrative chief of Fang district said.

    The area is about 800 kilometers north of Bangkok.

    Arthit said no details were immediately available regarding the fighting Sunday between the rebel Shan State Army guerrillas and Burmese troops manning the Pakhee outpost, 300 meters across the border from Ban Nolae village.

    "The villagers have been evacuated for their safety and they will live here until the situation comes back to normal," Arthit said in a telephone interview.

    Thailand has been concerned about its border communities since fighting between Burma and the Shan State Army spilled into Thailand's Chiang Rai province, which neighbors Chiang Mai, in January. Several shells had landed in the town of Mae Sai, killing at least two civilians on that occasion.

    Later, Thai and Burmese troops also exchanged fire, causing a deterioration in relations between the two countries. Several border crossings between Thailand and Burma remain closed even today because of the tensions.

    The Shan State Army is fighting for independence for the Shan state which borders Thailand. Burma accuses Thailand of aiding the rebels and giving them sanctuary. Thailand denies the accusation.

    In a statement received Monday, the Shan State Army said it raided a Burma military outpost in Pakhee before dawn Sunday, killing seven soldiers.

    The claim could not be independently confirmed and the Burmese government spokesman did not immediately respond to a faxed letter from The Associated Press.

    The Shan State Army said it seized 170,000 pills of the illegal stimulant methamphetamines, one rocket propelled grenade launcher, five automatic rifles, a mortar, and ammunition.

    The statement said 14 Shan villagers on their way to Thailand were beaten to death on March 2 near the Pakhee outpost. This claim also could not be independently confirmed.
    Thailand To Query Burma Over Power Plant Project Near Border

    BANGKOK (AP)--Thailand will seek more information from Burma about a coal fired power plant being planned near the border amid concerns it will be used by a drug trafficking army and cause pollution, officials said Monday.

    Thai authorities prevented a consignment of power generating equipment destined for the power project from crossing the northern Thai-Burmese border last week. The equipment reportedly came by sea from China to Bangkok port for land transportation to Burma.

    The blocked shipment is the latest blow to frayed Thai-Burmese relations.

    Foreign Minister Surakiat Sathirathai said he would raise the issue during a meeting with his Burmese counterpart in Rangoon May 1-2. He said he would seek more information about where the plant would be located and what measures would be taken to prevent pollution.

    If anti-pollution precautions weren't taken, he would urge Burma to relocate the plant, Surakiat told reporters.

    Trucks carrying the cargo drove back Sunday from the Thai border town of Mae Sai to a port in Bangkok after Thai villagers threatened to torch them.

    "Thai people fear the sulfur dioxide emissions will pollute the environment," Phong Srimawan, a protesting villager told reporters in Mae Sai, about 720 kilometers north of Bangkok.

    The power plant is reportedly planned for construction only 4 kilometers from the Burma's border town of Myawaddy, which lies opposite Mae Sai.

    Sunday, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said he believed the plant would be built in territory controlled by the United Wa State Army, an ethnic army that Thailand says is responsible for production and trafficking of illegal drugs.

    "I will not allow the shipment to reach the hands of the Wa via a Thai checkpoint," Thaksin told reporters in the northern city of Chiang Mai.

    "The Wa are committing a serious crime against Thailand by producing narcotic drugs and exporting them to our country and should not get this strategic supply," he said.

    The two countries share a more than 2,000 kilometer border where anti-Burma insurgents operate. Fighting between forces of Burma's military regime and ethnic Shan rebels spilled over the Thai border in February leading to the worst clashes between the Thai and Burmese armies in recent years.
    Burma denounces rebel fighters as "drug bandits" after deadly raid

    Rangoon, April 23 (AFP)

    Burma on Monday accused rebel fighters who claimed to have uncovered a narcotics haul in a deadly weekend raid on a border outpost of being "drug bandits."

    The Shan State Army (SSA) rebels said they found 170,000 methamphetamine pills in a security post opposite the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai where they killed seven Burmese soldiers Sunday.

    The Burmese government did not directly deny reports of the soldiers' deaths, or of the drugs haul, but launched a tirade against the SSA which it accused of itself being involved in the narcotics trade.

    "It is indeed regretful that ... the drug bandit group ... again managed to use Thai territory as a springboard in attacking the security unit assigned to monitor and prevent armed terrorist groups and drug traffickings from crossing into Myanmar territory," it said in an official information sheet.

    SSA leader Colonel Yawd Serk was trying to "justify his criminal activities by trying to falsely portray himself and his organisation as Shan freedom fighters fighting to eliminate narcotic drugs production," it added.

    Fighting between the SSA and the rival United Wa State Army (UWSA), which is allied with the junta in Rangoon, sparked a serious border clash between the Thai and Burmese national armies earlier this year.

    After a tense stand-off which saw heavy military build-ups on either side of the important Mae Sai-Tachilek border crossing, the two sides finally held high-level talks that went some way to resolving the tensions.

    The UWSA -- also known as the Red Wa -- has been fingered by Thai and US anti-narcotics officials as being the main player in the rampant drugs trade centred on the Thai-Burmese border.

    While opinions differ over the level of the SSA's involvement, many observers believe they also tap profits from the drugs trade to fund their campaign for autonomy.

    And they are widely seen as having become closely aligned with the Thai military, fighting a proxy war against the Red Wa which has signed a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese regime.

    The junta said Monday that it was "unfortunate" that the Red Wa had become a "scapegoat" by bearing the brunt of the blame for the production of heroin and methamphetamines within Burma's borders.

    "The Red Wa has not only pledged to make the whole Wa region drug-free but has actually implemented a number of crop-substitition and income-generating programs," it said.

    The Shan were "being falsely portrayed as drug-busters," it said.

    And it also poured scorn on a claim by the rebel Karen National Union that its fighters destroyed a drugs warehouse opposite Thailand's Mae Sot province over the weekend.

    SSA leader Yawd Serk, who has been battling Burma's government forces in the remote east of the country, vowed earlier this year to step up the group's fight against advancing soldiers.

    "From now on we will not just wait for Myanmar troops to fire on us. We will move to fight them, too," he told reporters in February.

    Yawd Serk said SSA troops had been attacked because they were positioned along a border route used by Burma to transport drugs, and that the rebel army was simply following its policy to suppress the drugs trade.
    Burma court adjourns Suu Kyi house case to May 2

    Source : MSNBC / Reuters

    Rangoon, April 23---A Burma's court on Monday began hearing a suit filed by the brother of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi for administration of her Yangon home, and adjourned the case until May 2.

    ''I hereby adjourn this suit until May 2,'' judge Soe Thein told the lawyers of Suu Kyi and her brother Aung San Oo.

    uu Kyi's brother, who lives in the United States and has U.S. citizenship, wants the right to administer the house where Suu Kyi lives in Rangoon. Real estate agents say it is worth about $2 million.

    The court dismissed a previous suit by Aung San Oo in January on the grounds he had filed the case on the wrong form.

    The dismissal of the suit in January was widely interpreted as a sign Burma's military government was easing its crackdown on Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD).

    But the government insists the suit is a family affair and says it will not intervene.

    Suu Kyi, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her efforts to bring democracy to Burma, has been confined to the house in Rangoon since September and access to her has been tightly controlled.

    The NLD won Burma's last democratic elections in 1990 by a landslide but has never been allowed to govern.

    But tension between the government and the NLD has eased in recent months. Secretive talks between Suu Kyi and the military began at the end of last year and open criticism by both sides has gradually ceased.

    Suu Kyi and Aung San Oo are children of Burma's independence hero General Aung San, who was assassinated in 1947 when the country was on the threshold of independence from Britain.

    The Rangoon house was owned by Suu Kyi's family.

    Suu Kyi has lived there -- much of the time under house arrest -- since returning from Europe in 1988 to nurse her ailing mother.
    Thai General says Thai electricity runs Burma drug plants

    Source : MSNBC / Reuters

    BANGKOK, April 23---A Thai general called on Monday for Thailand to stop selling electricity to military-ruled Burma, saying Burma's authorities were supplying the power to drug factories.

    Lieutenant-General Wattanachai Chaimuanwong told a radio station electricity Thailand was supplying to the northeast Burma border town of Tachilek was powering machines for making methamphetamines run by an ethnic minority militia group.

    ''Of course, they (the Myanmar militia group) power their drug-making machines with electricity, otherwise they can't make 700 to 800 million tablets (a year). Therefore Thailand should stop selling electricity to Myanmar,'' Wattanachai said.

    Wattanachai, often a vocal critic of the Burmese military, is commander of Thailand's third army region which includes the northern border with Burma.His remarks, analysts said, could lead to a new round in a war of words between the neighbours, who share a 2,400 km (1,490 miles) border.

    Clashes between Thai and Burmese border forces erupted in February but tension was eased somewhat by regional-level talks between the two sides earlier this month.

    Thailand, once notorious for being a major conduit and supplier of heroin, now faces a growing problem with methamphetamines, produced, officials say, by the United Wa State Army (UWSA), a Burma's ethnic minority militia force based in Shan State.

    Wattanachai said Thai electricity supplied to Tachilek was being passed on to UWSA headquarters in Mong Yawn, 80 km (50 miles) southwest of Tachilek.


    Thai drug suppression agencies estimate the number of methamphetamine stimulant tablets, known in its crystalised form in the West as ''ice,'' flowing into Thailand this year would leap to 800 million pills from 500 million in 2000.

    The UWSA was formed by ethnic 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 pact with Rangoon.

    The UWSA, granted a degree of autonomy under the deal with Rangoon, has helped the Burmese army in its fight against separatist Shan guerrillas. But the Rangoon government says it has no control over its ally.

    Last week Thai forces in the northern border town of Mae Sai, opposite Tachilek, blocked a convoy of trucks carrying lignite power generation equipment from China, from crossing into Burma. It released them on Sunday.

    Some Thai officials have said they believe the equipment is bound for the UWSA, while others have said they were concerned about pollution from a power plant affecting communities on the Thai side of the border.

    Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra told reporters on Monday he was concerned electricity from the new plant would accelerate methamphetamine production and supply to Thailand.

    ''I am concerned about that,'' he said.

    Thaksin has said Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai will raise the power plant issue during a two-day visit to Burma starting on May 1.

    Rangoon on Monday denied allegations that the new power plant belonged to the UWSA and said a halt to the sale of electricity would be bad for the local economy.

    ''The power plant has nothing to do with the United Wa State Army...(but belongs) to a private company called the Golden Triangle Hydro Power Public Co Ltd,'' a Burmese military government spokesman told Reuters.

    He said the 12-megawatt lignite-powered plant was designed to ''minimise environmental pollution'' and would not increase drug manufacturing in the area.

    ''A power plant is not necessary for methamphetamine production,'' he said adding the drugs could be produced in a small, remote factory.