Daily News-April 25- 2001- Wednesday

  • kyat falls to record low
  • San San Nweh allowed to visit her family
  • Vanuatu: Probe into reported major drugs consignment from Burma
  • US troops to avoid joint operations with task force
  • Thailand Defence Ministry denies minister's role in Burma-bound generators
  • Junta thrust driven back, says Shan source
  • U.N. urges action against rising AIDS threat in Asia
  • Tourists Visiting Myanmar Decrease in 2000
  • Myanmar's Cotton Yarn Production Up in 2000
  • Burma Accuses Thailand of Attacking Army Border Outpost
  • Japan Gives $28.6 Million In Aid To Burma; Reward For Talks
  • Thai FM says Cargo halted 'out of pollution concerns'
  • Rangoon steps up protest over warehouse

  • kyat falls to record low

    YANGON, April 24 (Reuters) - Myanmar's kyat currency fell to a record low of 680 per dollar on the black market in late trade on Tuesday compared with 603 on Friday amid reports of "panic selling", dealers said.

    Black market dealers reported heavy demand for dollars and said the fall in the currency may have been induced by reports of low export revenue and rising inflation.

    "It's very hard to say exactly what is making the demand (for dollars) grow," said one local businessman. "We hear some private companies are buying dollars."

    A black market dealer told Reuters he had not detected any measures by the Myanmar authorities to halt the kyat's slide. Myanmar officials were not immediately unavailable for comment.

    The Myanmar government has increased salaries of civil servants by five to eight times since April last year to help them cope with spiralling prices but its action has further fuelled inflation estimated at around 20 percent a year.
    San San Nweh allowed to visit her family for three hours in Rangoon

    Amnesty International French Section and RSF demonstrate on 25 April, at 3 p.m., in front of Burmese embassy to demand her release

    Jailed since August 1994, San San Nweh, journalist, writer and Burmese political militant, has been allowed for the first time to go to her home in Yankin, a suburb of Rangoon.

    According to the information collected by RSF, the winner of the 1999 Reporters Sans Frontières- Fondation de France prize left the women's wing of Insein prison (Rangoon) in the morning of 8 April, escorted by ten members of the military intelligence service (MIS). She could converse with her family, especially her six children, for more than three hours under control of MIS agents.

    Members of her family were able to note that her health had improved slightly. San San Nweh was arrested on 5 August 1994 and sentenced in October of the same year to ten years in jail for "producing and sending anti-government reports" notably to foreign journalists, and trying "to foment trouble".

    During her seven years of detention, the journalist has suffered from several diseases: high blood pressure, kidney infection and thrombocytopenia (an abnormal number of platelets in the blood). She shares her cell with three others personalities of the National League for Democracy (LND).

    Prisoners sleep on bamboo mats on the ground. The toilet ­ a mud bowl in the corner of the room ­ is cleared once a day only. From 6 am the women are forced to sit cross-legged on the ground with their heads bowed. Speaking is forbidden and disobedience is punished.

    The French section of Amnesty International (notably the 387 ­ Provins group) and Reporters Sans Frontières will demonstrate on Wednesday 25 April 2001, at 3 p.m., in front of the Burmese Embassy in France (60, rue de Courcelles, 75008 Paris). Demonstrators will give the services of the Embassy keys collected by Amnesty International to symbolise the liberation of San San Nweh. Hundreds of petitions will also be given to Embassy officials on this occasion.

    According to Reporters Sans Frontières (www.rsf.org), Burma is the Asian country where the largest number of journalists are in jail. In its latest report, RSF writes "the authorities' attitude towards prisoners of conscience is criminal, depriving them of the medical care they need.

    In 2000, the health of most of them, in particular Soe Thein, Sein Hla Oo, Win Tin and San San Nweh, worsened, without the prison authorities taking any steps to secure proper treatment for them".

    Amnesty International (www.amnesty.asso.fr) has just published an original and detailed list of 458 prisoners of conscience and 1,850 political prisoners currently jailed in Burma. A report entitled "institutionalised torture in Myanmar" is also available from the Amnesty International French section. The petition in favour of San San Nweh is available on www.rsf.org
    Vanuatu: Probe into reported major drugs consignment from Burma

    BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom; Apr 24, 2001

    Text of report by Radio New Zealand International audio web site on 24 April

    Vanuatu's commissioner of police, Peter Bong, has confirmed that the country's biggest ever drug investigation is under way in Port Vila and [on] one or two other islands, with the help of Australian police.

    Mr Bong says he ordered the investigation after information provided by two Chinese nationals who were arrested in Fiji in October last year. That was in connection with the biggest drug bust in the Pacific, which involved 370 kg of heroin. The men said a similar consignment was sent to Vanuatu at the same time in a similar container by the same people in Burma. Mr Bong says he expects a number of people will be arrested.
    US troops to avoid joint operations with task force

    source : The Nation

    US troops will help train Thailand's newly created Task Force 399, created to strengthen security along the northern border, but US forces will not be involved in any joint operations, a US military officer said yesterday.

    It is against US government policy for US troops to take part in any such joint operation that could put their lives in jeopardy, said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.The US also wants to make sure that it will not disturb the delicate political relationship between Thailand and Burma, which hit a low point after troops from both countries were involved in cross-border shelling more than two months ago.

    "We are certain that we're not going to put US troops in areas that will be provocative," the officer said. "We could inadvertently worsen the security situation by pissing a lot of people off." The Americans' role in training the task force is part of an effort to help modernise the Thai military, as well as to help integrate the country's law enforcement agencies in strengthening border security, he said. The Thai unit will be trained to operate in remote areas, at night, and under extreme conditions, he said. The US instructors could total as many as 100 at any given time, he said.

    According to a senior Third Army officer, the task force will be made up of troops from Thailand's Special Forces, infantry units and border police.Besides preventing hostile forces from entering Thailand, the task force will be looking to curb the flow of drugs from clandestine labs along the Thai-Burmese border. The 400-strong unit will be based in Chiang Mai. It will be under the command of the Third Army, the Thai officer said.

    Most of the American instructors will be from the First Special Forces Group and each will have "functional expertise" in areas that will help Thai troops respond quickly to any border intrusion, the officer said.

    The Third Army relies on the Naresuan and the Pha Muang task forces for security along the northern border. Task Force 399 will help unite the two forces, as well as the border police, in their efforts to secure the border.

    Technology will play a part in the effort but it should not be considered a solution, the officer said. The idea is to help the troops make the right decisions, taking into consideration their military capabilities, the officer said. He added that the financial crisis that struck the country four years ago has taken its toll on the defence budget. The task force will be based far enough from the border so that no one will mistake training for actual operations, he said.
    Thailand Defence Ministry denies minister's role in Burma-bound generators

    source : The Nation

    Bangkok, 23 April: The Defence Ministry denied on Monday [23 April] that Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh had anything to do with the controversial shipment of 44 containers of machinery destined for Burma which has been turned back at the border by the Third Army Region over the week-end.

    Defence Ministry spokesman Col Jongsak Panichkul said neither Gen Chavalit nor his wife, Khunying Phankrua, had business interest in the delivery of the machinery for coal-fired power generation plant being built in Burma's Thachilek Province. "Gen Chavalit denied any link to the shipment and considered the matter closed," the spokesman said. "The Foreign Ministry has been assigned to take over the matter," he said.
    Junta thrust driven back, says Shan source

    Shan Herald Agency for News 24 April 2001 No: 04-22

    Wave after wave of assault by Burma Army units backed by heavy weapons were repelled by the Shan force at a strategic mountain opposite Chiangmai today, said a Shan resistance source.

    Pakhee, the Burma Army's base until Sunday when the Shan State Army under Yawdserk's command occupied it, was attacked at 09:00 at a location called Honok, 3 km north of the Shan command post.

    According to the source, the access to Pakhee is Honok, so named because of its likeness to a bird's head. The combined attacking force was made up of 5 battalions: IB 225 (Mongton), IB 227 (Mongkhark), IB 43 (Mongpiang), IB 49 (Monghsat) and LIB 519 (Mongton). Another source, however, said it was not IB 227 but IB 277 stationed in Mongton. They were joined by IB 65 later in the evening.

    "More than a hundred 81-mm mortar shells hit the mountain," said the Shan source, "but our fighters have so far managed to push the attackers back." He said Brigade 727, commanded by Maj Ternkhurh, whose operational area is Mongtom Township, also set up ambushes along the Mongton-BP1 motorway.

    "We killed 3, wounded 7 and destroyed one army truck between Maeken (50 miles from the border) and Monghang (40 miles from the border) in one such attack."

    Sources from the Thai army said it would be difficult, if not impossible, for the junta army to reoccupy Pakhee since it could be approached only through Honok.

    " Of course, the alternative is to attack it from the Thai side like they did at Pangnoon (Mae Fa Luang District, Chiangrai, on 9 February)," said a border watcher. "But the Thai Army is unlikely to allow such border intrusions to happen again."

    Results of today's clashes on both sides are still not available, though the casualty figure of last night's minefield encounter was given as 3 killed.
    U.N. urges action against rising AIDS threat in Asia

    BANGKOK, Thailand -- Asia could outstrip chronically hit Africa in HIV/AIDS infections in the coming decade unless urgent action is taken to stop the spread, a U.N. official said Monday.

    "There are clear warning sings that the epidemic could escalate in many countries if urgent action is not taken," said Kathleen Cravero, deputy executive director of UNAIDS.

    Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and parts of India already have epidemics that have spread beyond high-risk groups like sex workers and intravenous drug users, she said.
    Tourists Visiting Myanmar Decrease in 2000


    YANGON, April 24 The number of tourists visiting Myanmar came to 234,900 in 2000, falling by 9.3 percent from 1999, according to the latest figures published by the country's Central Statistical Organization.

    Of the tourists, 49 percent entered the country by land through border points. Up to now, there were 492 different hotels and motels with 13, 984 rooms.

    Of them, 21 are foreign-invested, four are joint ventures, 439 are private-run and 28 state-operated. There has also been 521 licensed tour companies in Myanmar including 508 private ones, 12 joint ventures and one foreign company.

    According to the data published by the Myanmar Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, there are 3,768 registered tour guides. Of them, English language guides account for the majority with 2,644 in number, while Japanese language guides take 486, Chinese language guides 222 and French language guides 189.

    Due to the impact of the Asian financial crisis, Myanmar's tourism business is seen as very poor with most of its hotel rooms remaining vacant.

    The country's recent target for tourism is to draw 500,000 tourists annually. Since Myanmar opened to foreign investment in 1988, such contracted investment in the sector of hotels and tourism has reached 1.054 billion U.S. dollars in 42 projects.
    Myanmar's Cotton Yarn Production Up in 2000


    YANGON, April 24 Myanmar produced 5,700 tons of cotton yarn in 2000, 19 percent more than 1999 when it registered 4,790 tons, according to the latest data released by the country's Central Statistical Organization.

    During the year, Myanmar also yielded 22,103,262 meters of cotton fabrics, up 23.37 percent from 1999 which saw a production of 17,915,314 meters.

    Myanmar annually cultivates 283,500 hectares of cotton and produces more than 160,000 tons of ginned cotton, of which long-staple cotton accounted for about 82 percent.

    Meanwhile, to maintain the enthusiasm of cotton growers and to solve their difficulties of shortage of capital used in cultivation, the government provides annually more than 1 billion Kyats (about 2 million U.S. dollars) of loans to the growers in the country in addition to granting advance payment to them for the purchase of cotton.
    Burma Accuses Thailand of Attacking Army Border Outpost

    Rangoon, Burma (AP)

    --Burma Wednesday accused Thai soldiers of joining ethnic rebels in attacking a Burma army border outpost this week, and denied reports that drugs were found at the post.

    The developments further sour relations between the two neighbors, which have been at loggerheads since their armies fought a skirmish in February in the worst border clash in decades. Since then, both sides have been locked in a war of words.

    The latest accusations were made by Lt. Col. San Pwint, a military intelligence officer, who called a news conference to counter Thai reports about the attack Sunday on the Pakhee outpost in eastern Burma.

    Pakhee is located 300 meters from the border, opposite Fang district in northern Thailand. It about 480 kilometers northeast of Rangoon.

    San Pwint said the Foreign Ministry summoned the Thai military attache in Rangoon and lodged an official protest. Burma has long accused Thailand of giving sanctuary to anti-Rangoon rebels.

    Thai army or government officials were not immediately available for comment.

    The attack on Pakhee was claimed on Monday by the Shan State Army, an ethnic rebel group fighting for independence from Burma. Thai army officials supported the claim.

    In a statement, the Shan group had claimed that its guerrillas overran the outpost, killing seven soldiers. It said 170,000 pills of methamphetamines were found at the post, indicating Burmese soldiers were involved in smuggling drugs into Thailand.

    But San Pwint said the attack was carried out by about 200 Thai troops and the Shan rebels from Thai soil, which killed six of the 20 soldiers at the post.

    San Pwint also denied Thai media reports about the drugs.

    Claims that 170,000 methamphetamine pills were confiscated from the outpost were "false and fabricated allegations to cover Thai army involvement in the attack and to discredit Myanmar," he said.

    Col. Thein Swe, another military intelligence officer, said Burma hopes that the problems can be resolved between the foreign ministers of Thailand and Burma, who will meet at a Southeast Asian nations meeting in Rangoon next week.
    Japan Gives $28.6 Million In Aid To Burma; Reward For Talks


    --Japan will give $28.6 million in aid to Burma to reward its military rulers for starting reconciliation talks with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the International Herald Tribune reported Wednesday on its Web site.

    The report said the grant is the biggest since the junta took power in 1988 after a bloody crackdown on a massive democracy uprising. It breaks a long-standing informal ban on bilateral assistance to Burma.

    However, the grant was approved in consultation with the United Nations and the U.S., said the Paris-based newspaper, which is published jointly by The New York Times and The Washington Post.

    Japanese and Burmese officials weren't immediately available for comment.

    The Tribune report quoted unidentified sources as saying that the Y3.5 billion aid will be used for reconstruction of turbines in a hydropower dam in eastern Burma.

    The aid "is intended to serve as a tangible reward to the military government for having kept open a dialogue" with Suu Kyi, the report said.

    It said rehabilitation of the Baluchaung dam was agreed to earlier this month and quietly announced during a little-publicized visit to Tokyo by Burma's deputy Foreign Minister, Khin Maung Win.

    The agreement hasn't been announced in the Burma's state-controlled press.

    The dam was built by Japan in the 1960s as part of World War II reparations. The Tribune report said Japanese consultants will leave for Burma in the next few weeks to draw up a feasibility study, after which the Japanese Cabinet will formalize funds that have already been earmarked by the Foreign Ministry.

    Burma's military junta started the reconciliation talks in secret with Suu Kyi last October after mediation by a U.N. special envoy, Razali Ismail, of Malaysia.
    Thai FM says Cargo halted 'out of pollution concerns'

    Source : Bangkok post

    The army stopped a shipment of Chinese power generators crossing the border out of environmental concerns, said Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai.

    Speaking before his departure for Malaysia, Mr Surakiart said he believed the Third Army's move last Friday would not escalate into a serious matter.

    Some worried about environmental impacts of the coal-fired power plant planned for Tachilek in Burma. The matter would be raised on his visit to Burma next month, Mr Surakiart said.

    At this stage he had asked the Thai ambassador to Rangoon to explain the matter to the Burmese government.

    Mr Surakiart declined to comment on suggestions the power plant may have something to do with the drug-producing Red Wa. Problems concerning ethnic minorities would be dealt with by Thailand, Burma and China together.

    Kraisak Choonhavan, chairman of the Senate panel on foreign affairs, said the shipment had to be stopped. The government should find out whether the project belonged to the Burmese government or a private firm, whether it was legal, and details of the plant's engineering system.

    Chinese equipment might not be good enough to control air pollution, the senator said. "I am afraid it would affect Thai people and the environment, especially air quality. Is it possible to raise the matter for discussion among Asean members?" he said.

    The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes Burma, had set up a working group on trans-boundary pollutants.

    Burmese lignite, which is of poor quality, would emit twice as much sulphur dioxide as that from plants at Lampang's Mae Moh district, he said.

    He also suspected the plant might help the Red Wa meet its target of churning out 700 million speed pills.

    In Chiang Mai, Third Army commander Lt-Gen Wattanachai Chaimuenwong yesterday met officials from four border provinces-Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son and Tak-to discuss co-operation.

    Lt-Gen Wattanachai said he did not allow the trucks carrying power generator parts to cross simply because the Mae Sai checkpoint had not yet been fully opened.

    "Although we opened the checkpoint on March 12, the opening is only for people to travel; vehicles are not allowed. So we could not let the trucks across," he said.

    Meanwhile, Mae Sai and Mae Chan residents are debating effects on the environment and tourism.

    Pang Polajai, a villager leader from Mae Sai, said locals could ask the government to negotiate with Rangoon to have the site moved at least 80km from the border.
    Rangoon steps up protest over warehouse

    Source : Bangkok post

    Burma has accused Thailand of helping the anti-Rangoon Karen National Union attack a warehouse in Myawaddy on Sunday.

    A Thai border official said Burmese officials in Myawaddy sent an aid-memoire to Mae Sot officials accusing Thailand of allowing the rebels to launch their attack from Thai soil.

    Lt-Col Soe Win, the Thai-Burmese township border committee chairman, signed the letter and sent it to his Thai counterpart, Col Chainarong Thanaroon, on Monday.

    He said the Karen guerrillas crossed the Moei river from Ban Huay Muang in Tak, and opened fire on houses and a warehouse south of Myawaddy.

    Four Burmese villagers were killed during the attack and five others injured. The warehouse was destroyed.

    Burma demanded an explanation and urged Thailand to take responsibility for the damage and prevent future attacks.

    The source said it was not government policy to allow rebel groups to use Thai territory as a base to launch attacks against their opponents in Burma.

    The warehouse was under the protection of the pro-Rangoon Democratic Buddhist Army. It was attacked by the KNU 6th division because it was used to store speed pills produced by the Wa.