Daily News-April 26- 2001- Thursday

  • Protest for Release of Imprisoned Burmese Journalist
  • German parliament cancels Burma visit over Suu Kyi access
  • Shans still retain their positions
  • Kyat falling against Baht
  • Thai Army task force halts drug caravan
  • Shipment row with Rangoon not expected to escalate
  • Energy Authority Orders Strict Quota
  • Burma's Customs Duties Income up in 2000
  • Burma Makes Efforts to Improve Public Health Care
  • Wa purchasing power to be curtailed in trade initiative
  • Increased border tensions hamper trade with Burma
  • Power plant issue unlikely to escalate
  • Burma Accuses Thailand Of Military Escalation At Border
  • Burma accuses Thailand of threatening ASEAN unity over drugs issue

  • Protest for Release of Imprisoned Burmese Journalist

    By Tin Maung Htoo
    Burma Media Association (Canada Branch) 25/04/01

    A public protest for immediate release of imprisoned Burmese journalist San San Nwe is to carry out today in front of Burmese embassy in Paris, informed in the press release issued by Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontiers) and Amnesty International (French Section).

    Along with the protest the press release said, "Demonstrators will give the services of the Embassy keys collected by Amnesty International to symbolize the liberation of San San Nweh. Hundreds of petitions will also be given to Embassy officials on this occasion."

    San San Nwe, 57, is Burma's most prominent woman journalist and was sentenced to ten years in prison in 1994 for reporting on human rights conditions in Burma. She was also detained for ten months in 1989. During a period between 1990 and 1994, she was banned to print stories, articles, or novels and from the age of 15 to the restrictive period she had written 12 novels, 500 short stories and 100 poems.

    On April 8, she was allowed to visit her home for three hours accompanying with the military intelligence agents and afterward brought back to the Insien Prison, reported on the various media in the last two weeks.

    The planned protest press release portrays Burma as the Asian country where the largest numbers of journalists are in jail and expressed concern of Burmese military treatment on political prisoners as criminal prisoners. In Burma today 14 journalists are reportedly being confined along with other thousands of political prisoners and among death toll of those two journalists were listed.

    Reporters Without Borders, one of two groups that organize the protest, awarded Foundation of France Prize (Fondation de france prize) to San San Nwe in 1999 and started the campaign for her release. She was also awarded the Golden Pen of Freedom Prize for 2001 along with U Win Tin, another prominent journalist, and the awarding ceremony is now underway. Regarding this special event, a recent-dated letter sent to Burmese military leader Sen. General Than Shwe, demanded.

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

    The letter was signed by WAN President Roger Parkinson and WEF President Ruth De Aquino and sent on April 9, and the ongoing Paris protest for San San Nwe's release along with U Win Tin seemed to be a wake-up call for the Burmese military.
    German parliament cancels Burma visit over Suu Kyi access

    Deutsche Presse-Agentur April 24, 2001

    HANOI-A German parliamentary delegation visiting Southeast Asia said Tuesday it had scrapped plans to travel to Myanmar (Burma) on the trip because the military junta there denied the group access to opposition leader Aung San Su Kyi.

    Delegation leader Adelheid D. Troscher, of the Social Democratic Party's group on economic cooperation and development, said the six Bundestag members were strongly rebuffed two weeks ago by the ruling State Peace and Development Council.

    "They did not want us visiting opposition leaders. They said they would rather not want us at the moment," Troscher told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa after arriving in Hanoi for a four-day Vietnam visit.

    Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won a 1990 election but the military voided the vote and arrested Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize a year later. The opposition leader was released in 1995 but has lived under virtual house arrest since, though she has been able to meet with several international groups over the years.

    "I think it is shameful we were not allowed to meet with her," said Angelika Koster-Lossack of Alliance 90 - The Green Party, saying she had mistaken the junta's recent dialogue with Suu Kyi to be a possible reversal of their "policy of isolation". "But they flatly refused to allow us to see her. And so we decided amongst ourselves not to go to Myanmar to just see generals," Koster- Lossack said.

    "We are disappointed because a dialogue needs to be established with the outside world," she added. "It was a chance missed." The high-ranking, multi-party delegation consists of six members of the Bundestag's committee on development cooperation, which is touring the region to get a better understanding of Southeast Asia's sustainable management and development projects.

    The sector is one of the most significant areas of German aid to Vietnam and Cambodia. On Wednesday the delegation meets with several members of the government of communist-ruled Vietnam, which last weekend anointed a reform-leaning moderate, Nong Duc Manh, to be its new leader.
    Shans still retain their positions

    Shan Herald Agency for News-25 April 2001-No: 04 - 26

    The second day of junta army's assault to recover the strategic mountain that was lost to the Shan resistance army on Sunday concluded without conclusion long after sunset today.

    The assault that resumed at 06:00 this morning came to a climax with the Shan counter attack at 11:00 that succeeded in placing part of the attacking force within its envelopment. The latest report at 19:30 said the surrounded Burmese troops were still there.

    Unconfirmed reports place Burmese casualties as 11 dead and Shan casualties as 1 wounded.

    During the fighting 15 shells fell into Thai territory in Fang District. The Thai Army reported it responded by firing 8 shells to serve as a warning to both battling sides. Though some houses in the Thai side were damaged, no civilians were hurt as they had been moved well out of harm's way since Sunday.

    Shans in Thailand also presented 400-packets of cooked rice and powdered soybean sauce (Nampit) to the Shan State Army representative this morning. "This is to show that we are one with them," said an exile.
    Kyat falling against Baht

    Shan Herald Agency for News 25 April 2001 No: 04-24

    The Burmese currency has dropped significantly yesterday in Tachilek-Maesai due to rumors of imminent demonitization by Rangoon, said sources in Chiangrai.

    Before yesterday a hundred kyat could buy 8.40 baht, they said, but now it could buy only 8.

    "The grapevine is that another round of demonitization is in the offing," one said. The last demonitization 14 years ago sparked demonstrations that finally blew into the 1988 uprising. At the beginning of the year, it was a hundred kyat to ten baht.

    "There are so many people trying to withdraw their money that the local banks like Mayflower are running out of hard cash," said another.
    Thai Army task force halts drug caravan, seizes pills and heroin after gun battle

    source : The nation

    THE Army's Naresuan task force on Tuesday seized more than six million methamphetamine tablets and five kilograms of heroin from a drug-smuggling caravan.The seizure came on the heels of last week's record haul of 7.7 million speed pills.

    In Tuesday's action, the task force exchanged fire for about 15 minutes with 30 to 35 armed men who were guarding the drug caravan in Tak's Phop Phra district, Third Army Commander Lt-General Wattanachai Chaimuanwong said yesterday."The spot is just 500 metres from the borderline," he said.He added that the scene was also close to the place where last week's record haul of speed pills was confiscated in similar circumstance.

    Wattanachai said he believed the unidentified armed men who protected Tuesday's drug caravan belonged to the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army.However, he was convinced that the illegal drugs were from the United Wa State Army, a group of ethnic fighters known as the Red Wa.

    "Those armed men left the methamphetamine and heroin behind when retreating to Burmese soil," he said.

    The United Wa State Army and the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army might be "complacent" in using the same route in smuggling their illegal products despite the fact that Thai military forces thwarted their similar operation only last week, Wattanachai said.

    "Or else they were blinded by the thought that they must do something to cover the loss arising from their failed attempt last time," he said.

    Wattanachai added that concerned officials were investigating the case in a bid to nail down who in the country ordered the drugs.He also revealed that intelligence reports suggest the United Wa State Army is redirecting its smuggling route for big lots of illegal drugs from the north of the country to Tak.
    Shipment row with Rangoon not expected to escalate

    source : The Nation

    THE Army's blockade of equipment destined for a planned lignite power plant in a Burmese border town was unlikely to turn into a more serious conflict, as Rangoon would have pressed Bangkok harder over the case by now, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

    So far, Thai Ambassador to Burma Oum Maolanond has not been summoned to receive any protest over the incident, spokesman Pradab Pibulsonggram said.However, the envoy has informed Burmese authorities of Thai concerns over the lignite plant's impact on the environment if it is allowed to become operational.

    Rangoon claims the factory is necessary to supply electricity to the border region, which it says must be developed if it is to be freed of methamphetamine production, according to Pradab.In addition to the environmental concerns, local residents in Chiang Rai are worried the new factory would enhance the United Wa State Army's capacity to produce methamphetamines.

    Defence Minister General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh yesterday distanced himself from an allegation that the shipment was ordered under his name, saying an Army spokesman would clarify the issue in due course.

    In a separate development, Third Army commander Lt-General Wattanachai Chaimuanwong told reporters yesterday the military would introduce new measures to regulate cross-border trading between the two countries.

    Trading volume at certain crossing points would be limited, and trade in some goods would be banned outright, Wattanachai said.Permission to ship petroleum through Ban Nong Ook in Chiang Mai's Chiang Dao district, for example, would be denied.Small crossing points such as Ban Nong Ook, Wattanchai said, existed to facilitate the movement of villagers on either side, not for the convenience of influential traders.

    Meanwhile, Burma's military regime claimed yesterday Thai soldiers joined ethnic rebels in an attack on one of its army border outposts this week, and denied that a horde of drugs was found at the site.

    The claims further soured Thai-Burmese relations, which have been troubled since troops from both sides fought a skirmish near Mae Sai in February in the worst border clash in years. 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 on Sunday on the Pakhee outpost in eastern Burma. Pakhee is located 300 metres from the border, opposite Chiang Mai province's Fang district.

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

    Thai Army spokesman Col Somkaun Sangpattaranetr denied the army's involvement. "Whatever [Burma] says, we don't take it seriously, because that's what it keeps saying anyway. The world knows what's really going on," he said.
    Energy Authority Orders Strict Quota

    By Ko Thet
    source : The Irrawaddy News Magazine

    April 24, 2001—The Rangoon office of Burma’s state electricity authority has ordered townships in the capital to strictly enforce a rationing system introduced late last month, according to an official of the Office of the Ministry of Electric Power. The move was described as part of an effort to avert the possible collapse of the country’s aging generating facilities.

    "The state-owned electricity generators are now very old and in bad shape," said the official, who asked not to be identified. "We can’t even guarantee that we will be able to provide electricity from day to day."

    The quota, which has been in effect since late March, was not publicly announced, in line with a common practice in military-ruled Burma of informing only relevant authorities of new policies.

    Access to electricity is now restricted to 2-3 hours per day for most Rangoon households and businesses, and an average of six hours for factories in industrial zones. Power is distributed on a rotation basis, which many consumers described as completely random. Some factory managers complained that electricity is often available only after regular working hours.

    Burma has long been beset by energy shortages, which appear to be getting worse instead of better. Most businesses in the capital already rely heavily on privately owned diesel generators to meet their electricity needs. But with the local currency, the kyat, plummeting to record-low levels, the cost of imported diesel fuel is becoming prohibitive.

    "It usually cost around US $3 per day for energy when we used government-provided electrical power. But since the shortage began we have had to spend at least $ 20 every day to run our own generators," explained the manager of a small garment factory in the Shwe Pyei Thar Industrial Zone.

    Diesel fuel sells for around one US dollar per gallon on the black market, or about 600 kyat at the current unofficial exchange rate. Last week the kyat was valued at around 550 to the dollar. The official rate of 6 kyat to the dollar is ignored in most transactions.

    Others in the capital have also complained that the power cut has made life much more difficult for them, especially now that country has entered its hottest season of the year. Many living in the upper floors of apartment buildings say the lack of electricity for water pumps means they can no longer get water for cooking and cleaning.

    Still others have expressed concern about the impact on health care. "Even in private hospitals, patients only receive electricity when they are in intensive care units. The rest are in the dark and hot," said a woman who recently gave birth in one of Rangoon’s most famous private hospitals.
    Burma's Customs Duties Income up in 2000

    YANGON, April 23 (Xinhuanet) -- Myanmar earned 891 million U.S. dollars from customs duties in 2000, 11 percent more than 1999 when it registered 802 million dollars in revenues, according to the latest figures released by the country's Central Statistical Organization.

    The main source of Myanmar's customs duties income comes from import through normal trade and border trade, of which the import customs duties income earned through normal trade accounted for 87 percent of the total.

    To promote agricultural development, Myanmar government has exempted import customs duties levied on agricultural implements including fertilizer, pesticide and improved variety and machinery.

    In 2000, Myanmar's foreign trade totaled 4.086 billion dollars, of which imports amounted to 2.567 billion dollars, while exports were valued at 1.519 billion dollars. The trade deficit stood at 1. 048 billion dollars.
    Burma Makes Efforts to Improve Public Health Care

    YANGON, April 22 (Xinhuanet) -- Myanmar has been making efforts to improve public health care, adding a large number of hospitals and health care centers in the country in 13 years.

    According to the statistics published by the Myanmar Ministry of Health on Sunday, since 1988, the country has opened 97 new hospitals, 83 regional and rural health centers and 28 rural clinics.

    Myanmar Minister of Health Major-General Ket Sein said recently that the country's public health care services have improved dramatically, but he admitted that there is still a gap in development levels between urban and rural areas.

    Myanmar has been implementing a five-year national health plan from 1996 to 2001 and public health care and hospital care are among the areas covered by the plan. The other areas are disease control, environmental health and health system development.

    The government's financial support to the health sector accounts for about 7 percent of its total state budget and 40 percent of the national health expenditure are spent to improve health care in the rural areas.
    Wa purchasing power to be curtailed in trade initiative

    Source : Bangkok Post

    The Wa must not be allowed to use drug money to buy Thai goods which would help expand their drug empire, the Third Army chief said.

    Lt-Gen Wattanachai Chaimuenwong was speaking after a meeting at the Kavila military camp, where local officials overseeing cross-border trade were asked to study new lists of strategic goods before they are forwarded to the National Security Council for consideration.

    The Wa must not be allowed to buy construction materials from Thailand with dirty money earned from sales of illicit drugs to young Thais, he said.

    Lt-Gen Wattanachai, who heads the army's drug suppression campaign in the North, also said it would not be too difficult to check whether or not the money paid by Burmese businessmen to buy Thai goods was clean.

    The meeting agreed that a number of construction materials, including cement and steel, should be listed as prohibited strategic goods, he said.

    Lt-Gen Wattana also voiced concern over the fact large quantities of goods were being traded at several temporary checkpoints on the Thai-Burmese border, including Chiang Dao's Giew Pha Wok, which is near the United Wa State Army stronghold of Mong Yawn.

    He said the real purpose of temporary checkpoints was to serve local villagers' need for daily goods. However, these border markets were being exploited by influential business people, judging from the huge trade volumes which were far beyond what the locals would need daily, he said.

    About a million litres of diesel oil reportedly passed through Giew Pha Wok each month, giving the military much concern that most of it was destined for Wa-controlled areas, he said.

    "This kind of trading should not be allowed to continue" through temporary checkpoints, he said.

    On Tuesday night, troops from the Third Army seized 6,154,000 speed pills and 4.5kg of heroin in a raid on a border village in Tak's Phop Phra district.

    A security officer said the methamphetamine cache was under the protection of guerrillas of the pro-Rangoon Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, pending shipment to Thailand.

    "This clearly shows that there is close co-operation between the DKBA and the UWSA on border drug trafficking," the officer said.
    Increased border tensions hamper trade with Burma

    Source : Bangkok Post

    Cross-border trade has shrunk by 70% in the wake of Thai-Burmese border tensions, the chairman of the provincial chamber of commerce said.

    Export volume plummeted to 100 million baht a month from 400 million baht, Panithi Tangphati told a Chamber of Commerce Zone 7 meeting in Uthai Thani on Tuesday.

    Rangoon has also launched a campaign against Thai goods and tightened up trade measures, he said.

    The campaign started after Thailand barred exports of rice, medicine, fuel and cars to Burma.

    Some Burmese shops display a "no Thai goods" sign while others continue to sell Thai goods quietly.

    "Those who broke the law were arrested and prosecuted. The goods were seized and burned," he said.

    A sharp decrease in trade volume is cause for concern for Thai traders, who fear Rangoon might demonetise the kyat like it did in 1987.

    A worried Thai trader said Burma's economy was contracting and its currency weakening.

    On the black market, the exchange rate is 500 kyat per US dollar while the government's rate is 6-7 kyat per dollar.

    Commercial banks run by foreign investors have stopped trading in the currency, the trader said. Only the Asia Wealth Bank of former drug warlord Khun Sa and the Universal Bank of the Wa reportedly continued to make currency dealings.

    iyom Wairatpanich, chairman of the chamber of commerce's border trade committee, said the chamber would report the situation to Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on May 12.

    Third Army commander Lt-Gen Wattanachai Chaimuenwong yesterday chaired a meeting held in Chiang Mai to discuss border trade problems.
    Power plant issue unlikely to escalate

    Source : Bangkok Post

    Blockage of a shipment to Burma of Chinese power generators should not evolve into a major issue that affects Thai-Burmese relations, the Foreign Ministry says.

    Spokesman Pradab Pibulsonggram said Oum Maolanonda, Thai ambassador in Rangoon, believes he would have been summoned if Burma considered it a major issue.

    Instead, the envoy had conveyed Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai's concern about the environmental impact of a lignite-fired power plant.

    A convoy of 14 trailer trucks carrying generator parts was stopped at Mae Sai checkpoint on Friday. The Third Army said the checkpoint was not yet fully opened and stopped the trucks passing.

    Mr Pradab said Mr Surakiart would discuss the plant as well as the question of re-opening the border at Mae Sai in Burma next week.

    Mr Surakiart is due to meet Win Aung, his Burmese counterpart, and Khin Maung Thein, the finance minister, in Rangoon on May 1. A meeting with Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt, secretary one of the ruling State Peace and Development Council, is set for the next day.

    Mr Pradab quoted Burmese authorities as saying the plant would help develop the border area and curb drugs.

    But he said that there were no firm details about where the plant would go. A conservationist group plans a 10,000-signature petition asking the ministry to pressure Burma into moving the plant at least 80km from the border.

    The petition will go to Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra before Mr Surakiart leaves.

    A senior member of the Law Society suggested the government negotiate with Burma and China for proper studies on the environmental impact.

    "If the project's environmental impact assessment was of poor quality, Thai officials should offer technical help," said Somchai Homla-or, chairman of the human rights committee.

    The public should have been told earlier about the plant.

    disorn Kerdmongkol, of the Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma, was worried about the possibility of sabotage.

    "It could happen even in an area the Burmese government guarantees is under its control."
    Burma Accuses Thailand Of Military Escalation At Border

    BANGKOK (AP)--Burma Thursday accused the Thai army of escalating tensions at the border, saying it went against Southeast Asian nations' determination to resolve disputes peacefully.

    In a statement received in Bangkok, Burma's military regime claimed Thailand had sent troops on joint operations with anti-Burma ethnic Shan rebels and attacked military camps on the Burma side of the border.

    The "irresponsible actions" can jeopardize the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' "unprecedented determination to solve regional matters peacefully," the statement said.

    The statement reiterated an accusation made by a senior army officer Wednesday that Thai troops took part in an attack on the Pachee outpost Sunday, killing six Burmese soldiers. The camp is in eastern Shan State, which lies 50 yards from Thai border security units.

    The Thai army has already denied it took part in the raid, and backed the Shan rebels' claim that they seized 170,000 methamphetamines from the outpost after the attack.

    Burma said the claim was aimed at discrediting its army.

    "The tactics and trend being implemented by the Thai Army at present along the common border with Myanmar will definitely not help in our fight to eliminate narcotic drugs," the statement said.

    Thailand did not immediately respond to the statement. The army spokesman's mobile phone was turned off, and the Foreign Ministry spokesman was not available to take a call.

    Thailand and Burma are both members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean, a group which promotes economic, and to a lesser extent, political cooperation. The main tenet of Asean is noninterference in other countries' affairs.

    The two neighbors have been at loggerheads since their armies fought a skirmish in February in the worst border clash in years, after fighting between ethnic rebels and Burmese forces spilled over the border. Thailand denies helping the rebels.

    Relations are also sour as Thailand accuses Burma of doing little to stop the trafficking of methamphetamine drugs by a powerful ethnic Wa army that reached a cease-fire with Rangoon one decade ago.

    "Myanmar sincerely urges Thailand to cooperate in a meaningful way to also achieve its goal of a drug-free kingdom instead of blaming others for the Thai people's every bad and peculiar habit," the statement said.
    Burma accuses Thailand of threatening ASEAN unity over drugs issue

    Rangoon, April 26 (AFP)

    Burma Thursday accused Thailand of jeopardising Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) unity by blaming the Rangoon junta for rampant drug trafficking along their shared border.

    "Thailand has resorted to scapegoating and pushing responsibility to the other party rather than cooperation in a manner of shared responsibility," it said in a strongly-worded statement.

    "Irresponsible actions which can jeopardise the ASEAN's unprecedented determination to solve regional matters peacefully in an atmosphere of goodwill, friendship and cooperation among the member countries should be seriously considered."

    Despite expectations that Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's election in January would help improve relations with Burma, his sharply critical approach over the drugs issue has sparked a rift between the neighbours.

    Relations reach a low point earlier this year when fighting between two ethnic militias reputedly involved in the drug trade set off a rare clash between the two national armies.

    High-level talks helped relieve the tension, but a raid last weekend by the Shan State Army (SSA) rebels on a Burma border outpost, which left seven government soldiers dead, has reignited the debate.

    The SSA said they found 170,000 methamphetamine pills at the security post, a charge angrily denied by Burma which Thursday also accused the Thai military of being involved in the attack.

    "Certain camps assigned on the border for monitoring purposes and civilian towns are being frequently under attack on the pretext of narcotic drug elminiation by the (SSA) drug bandits and Thai troops," it said.

    The attacks were "causing unnecessary tensions and aggravation at areas where trade, friendship and peace have been prevalent before."

    Many analysts believe the SSA are closely aligned with the Thai military, fighting a proxy war against the rival United Wa State Army (UWSA) which is aligned with the Burmese regime.

    The Burma's statement said that the "tactics and trend being implemented by the Thai army at present along the common border with Myanmar will definitely not help in our fight to eliminate the narco drugs."

    In a reference to Thailand's massive addiction crisis, fed by amphetamines made inside Burma, it urged its neighbour to cooperate instead of "blaming others for the Thai people's every bad and peculiar habit."

    The re-opening of the debate comes just before the Thai and Burmese foreign ministers hold their first talks in Rangoon next Monday. The drugs issue is certain to be high on the agenda of their bilateral talks in the following days.