Daily News-April 27- 2001- Friday

  • Military regime in Burma is temporary
  • Burma hopes more accurate reporting will help dispel myths
  • Pakistan's Musharraf and his naval fleet To Visit Burma
  • Chinese Army Chief in Yangon for Goodwill Visit
  • History should be written for peace not war, says Thai educator
  • Thailand wants Burma to name anti-drug envoy
  • DRUG FLOOD: New speed labs come on stream
  • Drug smuggling insurgents attack on Tatmadaw outpost at Myanmar-Thai border
  • Right time for Malaysians to enter Burma's market
  • MGA gets two Burmese airport jobs
  • Shangri-La plans major facelift costing RM84mil
  • Thai Senate panel backs shipment blocking
  • 30 U.S senators urged Bush to maintain sanctions against Rangoon
  • Ethnic Group Protests Japan Aid For Burma's Hydropwr Plant

  • Military regime in Burma is temporary

    By Joseph Raj
    The Star

    PETALING JAYA: The military regime in Myanmar has no intention of holding on to power for long.Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt, Secretary (1) of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), which governs the country now, stressed that it had always been their aim to hand over the country to a democratically-elected government.

    "The military had to step in in 1998 as the country was in a state of anarchy. We can be considered a transitional government."This is what the government is trying to do. Our target is to hand over to a strong democratically-elected government that can uphold the constitution,'' Gen Khin Nyunt said during a courtesy call by a Malaysian media delegation in Yangon on Monday.

    He added that the situation in Myanmar had not been "presented forthrightly by the media in the West.'' "But we cannot fault the media for this as it depends on the situation in the country and the timing because of the arms insurrection.

    "We have a population of 52 million comprising 135 ethnic groups. Because of differences between the ethnic groups, we have had insurrections since independence.

    "Previous governments had tried to hold peace negotiations with insurgents but only in our time has there been success."If the political situation is bad, the economy cannot grow. That is why we focussed on bringing back the insurgents into the legal fold. "Now only one or two (of the 18 insurgent groups in Myanmar) are left,'' Lt Gen Khin Nyunt said.

    He added that the insurgents were working hand-in-hand with the government to carry out infrastructural development, including building numerous bridges to connect the east and the west of Myanmar.
    Burma hopes more accurate reporting will help dispel myths

    By Ramlan Said who was in Yangon recently26 April 2001


    MYANMAR is hoping that more accurate reporting on the country will encourage a greater number of tourists - especially Malaysians - to visit the 'Golden Land', said Lt Gen Khin Nyunt, Secretary (1) of the State Peace and Development Council of Myanmar.

    He said the situation in Myanmar over the past 10 years had not been painted accurately, especially by the Western media.

    "I don't think outsiders are fully aware of the real situation here. It is true that previously we could not show the country to the world because of insurgency problems we had to contend with."But peace and stability in the last decade have allowed Myanmar to develop its economy and ease travelling restrictions to many areas."

    He said this to a delegation of Malaysian journalists who called on him in the Myanmar capital, Yangon, on Monday.The eight-day visit was organised to enable the journalists to have a first-hand look of the country which has been under military rule since 1988.

    The de facto Prime Minister agreed that the closed-door policy practised by the previous governments had not helped in popularising Myanmar.

    "Despite not receiving any outside help, we have made great advances in the last decade. For example, you have been taken to the border areas of Lauk Kai and Monglar (in the Golden Triangle) which were off-limits before this due to dangers posed by insurgents and drug trafficking.

    "But the region has been entirely transformed with new and modern buildings replacing shanty towns that once dominated the landscape. Proper roads, hospitals and other facilities are being built."

    He said the country had been successful in destroying poppy fields and heroin production. Citing the Lauk Kai area as an example, he said it would be free of the menace by 2005.The government has embarked on a crop substitution programme for the poppy-growers and has brought development, which was made possible following peace accords reached with drug lords and various ethnic groups.

    Responding to the question often asked about Myanmar - the return to democratic rule by a government elected by the people - Khin Nyunt said the military did not intend to remain in power forever.Since achieving independence in 1948, he said Myanmar, with its 135 ethnic groups, had not enjoyed stability because of insurrections.He said the military, which had stepped in a few times as in 1960 and 1962, had been forced to take over the country in 1988 which had then been on the verge of anarchy.

    "You can say that we are only a transitional government. Our focus and main priority is to bring peace and develop the country."He said it was the military's wish to surrender power to a government elected by the people.

    "But there must be peace, order and economic growth. Unless we build the proper foundations for democracy, we will be heading into troubled waters."

    Pleading for some understanding, he said the West had long practised democracy and the people enjoyed a better standard of living.

    "Unless the people are given the experience, we can't move forward. We are trying to put the country on the road to democracy... this is what the present government is trying to achieve."

    On when this would happen, he said: "I don't think there is a need for us to drag our feet. This is not our intention.

    "But because of the insurgent groups and the agreements allowing them to hold on to arms until the formulation of the constitution, we have to move gradually."

    Khin Nyunt said the constitution would ensure the election of a strong democratic government. "It is our wish to relinquish power to a strong government."

    On the economy, Khin Nyunt said Myanmar practised an open policy but investments failed to flow in due to pressure from the West. Before 1988, he said the economy was stagnating due to internal instability.

    "The economy is always linked to political stability. If there is no stability, the economy cannot grow. That is why we have to bring the insurgents into the fold and at the same time, develop the country."

    Earlier, Myanmar Deputy Foreign Minister Khin Maung Win said the military's dialogue with democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party had not been prompted by outside pressure.

    "This is being done as we are aiming for national reconciliation, not only with the armed groups, but also the political parties."

    However, the Deputy Minister said he could not go into details on the discussions as both sides had agreed to keep them confidential.

    "Regular meetings are being held," he said when asked how many times both sides had met.

    Suu Kyi has been locked in a bitter struggle with the military government since winning the 1990 polls which the generals have refused to recognise.

    On the legitimacy of his government, Maung Win said just because it was not an elected one did not mean it was not legitimate.

    "If the military did not step in (in 1988), the country would have disintegrated. It was because of this special circumstance that the military took control."

    He said the military had been instrumental in holding the country together since then, besides bringing development.

    On views that a general election would only be called when the military was confident of winning, he said this was not possible as it was not a political party.

    Pressed on whether the military would contest the election on a political platform, he replied: "I don't want to pre-judge this matter."

    Maung Win was also asked about Myanmar's entry into Asean, to which he said members of the grouping could play an important role in developing the region.He added Myanmar's experience over the last four years had shown that joining Asean had been the right move, especially in the face of globalisation.
    Pakistan's Musharraf and his naval fleet To Visit Burma

    Rangoon (AP)--Gen. Pervez Musharraf will make the first official visit next week by a Pakistani leader to military-run Burma in 16 years, Burmese officials said Friday.

    Burma's state newspapers announced Musharraf will visit at the invitation of Gen. Than Shwe, the leader of the ruling State Peace and Development Council. Diplomats said his three-day visit would start Tuesday.

    It will be the first visit by a Pakistan leader since the current Burma's regime took power after crushing democracy protests in 1988. The last visit was by military ruler Zia-ul Haq in 1985.

    Only leaders of Southeast Asian countries and the prime minister of China, which is Burma's closest ally, have visited in the past 13 years. Burma remains diplomatically isolated by the West, which is critical of its human rights record.

    Burmese Deputy Foreign Minister Khin Maung Win said Musharraf's visit would "greatly contribute to the strengthening of traditional ties of friendship and cooperation between the two countries," he said.

    In a faxed response to questions from the Associated Press, the minister described bilateral relations as "multifaceted", ranging from trade and commerce to cooperation in international fora and defense.

    Burma's regime, which has recently been improving ties with neighboring India, retains closer military ties with Pakistan, which is India's archrival.

    On Sunday, a flotilla of Pakistan naval vessels including a submarine, a destroyer and two support ships will make the first ever port of call by the Pakistan navy in Burma, at a wharf 15 kilometers south of Rangoon, a Burmese official said.
    Chinese Army Chief in Yangon for Goodwill Visit

    BANGKOK, Apr 25, 2001 -- (Agence France Presse) Chinese army commander General Fu Quanyou arrived in Yangon late Wednesday for an official goodwill visit, state-run radio reported.

    Fu, who is chief of staff of the People's Liberation Army, was welcomed at the airport by his Myanmar counterpart, General Maung Aye, Radio Yangon said in a dispatch monitored here.

    Maung Aye is also the deputy commander in chief of Myanmar armed forces and vice-chairman of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the official name of the ruling military regime.

    Fu and his high-ranking military delegation are expected to call on Myanmar's supreme leader Senior General Than Shwe Thursday and hold meetings with other senior Myanmar figures.

    China, the first country to recognize Myanmar's military regime after it seized power in a bloody coup in September 1988, is the junta's main arms supplier.Since then, senior Myanmar and Chinese officials have kept up frequent visits.
    History should be written for peace not war, says Thai educator

    Shan Herald Agency for News 26 April 2001 No: 04-27

    Most history books in existence do not augur well for peaceful co-existence in the region and should be revised, counselled a well known non-conformist educator at a seminar on education in Burma.

    Piphop Thongchai, founder of Moobaan Dek, (Children's Village School) in Kanjanaburi, told the 55 participants at the Seminar on Children's Opportunity to Learn, "Thai history has been biased against the Burmese. So has Burmese history against Thais. Both are written for war not peace. What we need now is a history that shall foster mutual understanding and friendship."

    The 56 year old teacher criticized typical Thai history textbooks as too fawning of the western civilizations while too contemptuous of its neighbors.

    A participant, subscribing to Piphop's reason, said, " We discovered that whereas most Burmese regarded kings Bayinnaung (1551-1581) and Alaungpaya (1752-60) as heroes and unifiers of Burma, many Mons considered them as arch villains."

    The seminar is organized by National Health and Education Committee, an independent agency "formed to work for the development of health and education activities of the ethnic organizations and democratic forces," according to Saw Wingate, its current chairperson. It is supported by Danish Burma Committee and the Open Society Institute.

    "The rationale behind this seminar is to find ways how to give opportunities for children who are not in school," reported Thein Lwin, academic co-ordinator to the NHEC and co-organizer of the seminar. Other presenters included Mary Wooten, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, England, and Dr. C.P. Prabhakar (Maw Thiri) of Oxford Senior Secondary School, Delhi.

    According to a report by the UNICEF, only 27% of the children in Burma finished basic education.
    Thailand wants Burma to name anti-drug envoy

    The Nation, Agence France-Presse

    Thailand will propose at next month's regional anti-drug meeting in Rangoon that Burma should establish an "anti-drugs envoy" to liaison with countries in the region, PM's Office Minister Thamarak Isarangura said yesterday. "High on the agenda for the ministerial-level meeting on drug control will be a Thai proposal that Burma has an ambassador-level official to deal with the problem.

    A representative from the Burmese side would be necessary and important to the attempts to combat the widespread trade in drugs," Thamarak told The Nation. Thailand and China have already agreed to appoint anti-drug envoys who are expected to expedite cooperation and assistance on drug-related issues.

    Burma, Thailand, China, Vietnam and Cambodia will meet from May 8 to 11 in Rangoon to discuss cooperation on fighting drug trafficking. Thamarak will represent Thailand.

    Meanwhile, Burma yesterday accused Thailand of jeopardising unity among members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations by blaming the Burma's ruling junta for rampant drug trafficking along their shared border.
    DRUG FLOOD: New speed labs come on stream

    The Nation

    THE Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) is keeping a close watch on the Northern communities of Mae Hong Son and Tak as drug trafficking rings in Burma were believed to have opened up new methamphetamine factories opposite the two provinces.

    ONCB secretary-general Kitti Limchaikij yesterday said his agency suspected that methamphetamines were being turned into tablets at factories located on Burmese soil close to the country's border provinces.

    "Army intelligence sources have informed us that the insignia on the speed pills has just changed. It is likely that this change results from the fact that new factories are being used to finish production of the illegal drugs," he said.

    Kitti also revealed that machines capable of pumping out methamphetamine tablets were earlier confiscated in Tak just before they were due to be exported.

    Asked how many speed pills are flooding into the country, Kitti projected a figure of between 600 million and 700 million tablets this year.He pointed out that nearly 14 million speed pills were confiscated over the past three weeks.

    Kitti said his office had a plan to suppress the spread of drugs but declined comment when asked how the drug problem could be solved while the Burmese government continues to deny any involvement.

    On reports that fugitive suspected amphetamines dealer Surachai Ngernthongfoo had undergone plastic surgery, changed his name and sought a new ID card in order to enter the country, Kitti said his office had no information and that police were directly responsible for arresting the elusive Surachai.
    Drug smuggling insurgents attack on Tatmadaw outpost at Myanmar-Thai border clarified at Press meet

    source : NLM

    Yangon, 25 April - A Press meet concerning the attack on a Tatmadaw outpost at Myanmar-Thai border by drug smuggling insurgent group was held at Tatmadaw Guest House on Inya Road at 3 pm today.

    In meeting the Press, General Staff Officer (Grade-1) of Directorate of Defence Services Intelligence Lt-Col San Pwint said the Tatmadaw stationed its men at a military outpost at estimate T-905144 at Pachee near Pungpa-hkyem, Mongton Township, at the border in Shan State East for border defence and security.

    Pachee outpost located in Myanmar territory at the border is just a small military camp guarded by a strength of only about 20 soldiers. A Thai military camp is located about 50 yards opposite to the Pachee outpost in Thai territory. As the two military camps are close to each other, the troops deployed at the bases had cordial relations between each other in the past.

    At midnight on 21 April 2001, three truck-loads of a combined force of Thai army troops and members of Ywet Sit`s SURA opium smuggling insurgent group arrived at the Thai military camp which is opposite to the Pachee outpost.

    At 1.15 am the next day, heavy weapons and small arms began firing on the Pachee outpost from the Thai military camp. Then, about 200 attackers from the Thai camp approached the Pachee outpost. During the attack the searchlights from the Thai camp were projected on the Myanmar outpost; and the Thai camp also gave continuous supporting heavy weapons and small arms fire.

    Six soldiers of the Pachee outpost fell during the attack and the remaining troops had to withdraw as the situation of firepower and manpower was unequal. In addition to giving supporting fire, the Thai troops joined the SURA drug smuggling insurgents in attacking the Pachee outpost; Ywet Sit group is just in name as the majority of the attackers were Thai army troops.

    Concerning the attack, the 23 April 2001 issue of The Bangkok Post daily of Thailand reported that when about 200 members of Ywet Sit group overran a Myanmar Tatmadaw outpost, they seized seven bodies of Myanmar soldiers and 170,000 stimulant tablets. Similarly, it is stated in The Nation Daily that seven bodies of Myanmar soldiers and 150,000 stimulant tablets were seized. The iTV, a Thai TV channel, quoted Ywet Sit as saying that seven Myanmar soldiers were killed and nearly 200,000 stimulant tablets were impounded when his troops attacked the outpost. It was also reported on the Internet news that seven bodies of Myanmar soldiers and stimulant tablets were seized during the attack. These news reports are just fabrications.

    It was seen that Thai army troops are the majority, and Ywet Sit group is just in name in attacking the Pachee outpost. The Thais are making the slanderous scheme in order to hide the involvement of its troops and to put the blame on Myanmar concerning the narcotic drugs. It can be obviously seen that the scheme is a regular twists of Thailand.

    Similarly, the Ywet Sit group was placed in the forefront while Thai troops gave supporting fire and took part in launching attacks on O-7 hillock, Lwemasok camp and Lwetawhkam camp in Tachilek in February. Myanmar has filed protests for many times on the involvement of Thai troops. It is known that the Thai troops are stationed together with members of Ywet Sit group at the Pachee outpost. The Tatmadaw is drawing strategies to reoccupy the outpost.
    Right time for Malaysians to enter Burma's market

    By KAMARUL YUNUS26 April 2001/NSTP

    MALAYSIAN businessmen should capitalise on the current close relationship between Myanmar and Malaysia to open up their operations in that country prior to the full opening of its market, Malaysian Ambassador to Myanmar, Datuk Mohamed Noh said.

    When Myanmar opened its door fully, he said, Malaysians would stand little chance to succeed in penetrating its market because of the stiff competition from big economies like the US and Japan.

    "We are not a big player.When Myanmar opens its market, we will not be able to compete with the giants, who are already making inroads worldwide."If we come in late, we may not be successful.

    Now is the right time for Malaysian companies to invest in Myanmar," he told Malaysian journalists who were on an eight-day visit to Myanmar starting April 17.The visit was made possible following the meeting between Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad and State Peace and Development Council chairman Senior General Than Swee during the former's visit to Myanmar in January.

    Mohamed said since the PM's visit, bilateral relationship between Myanmar and Malaysia has strengthened further, and this has provided conducive environment for Malaysian companies to invest in Myanmar.Since Malaysia is heading towards automation in its production, he said Malaysian companies should relocate their operations to Myanmar to take advantage of the cheap labour there.

    Mohamed said Malaysian firms, although small, should invest in Myanmar and then build up their business."They should try to forge a close rapport with the right contacts to facilitate their business in Myanmar.With the close relationship between the two countries, we would not have problems in getting contacts with the Myanmar side," he said.

    On the potential investment in Myanmar, Mohamed said Malaysians are encouraged to participate in Myanmar's plantation sector such as maize planting, and opening up palm oil estate in Southern Myanmar."There is also vast opportunity for Malaysians to invest in mining and manufacturing as well as the human resources," he said.

    According to the Myanmar Investment Commission, Malaysia is the fourth largest foreign investor in Myanmar, after Singapore, the UK and Thailand.Since the introduction of the Foreign Investment Law in 1988, Myanmar has received cumulative investments worth US$7.4 billion (US$1 = RM3.80).

    Malaysian companies have invested in various sectors of Myanmar's economy including the manufacturing and hotel industries.For instance, hotels managed by Malaysians include the Ramada, Equatorial and MiCasa.

    In the food production industry, one of the outstanding Malaysian companies which is trying to establish itself as the number one producer of noodle snack in Myanmar is Myanmar Mamee Double Decker Ltd.Its general manager Micheal Chew Chin Teck said the company has invested US$5 million to set up the factory in Mingaladon industrial area in Yangon.With 130 local staff, the plant managed to produce about 5,000 boxes of several types of noodle and snack food a day.

    "Our target is to register a growth rate of 60 per cent annually, and so far the company has been able to achieve the target."We aim to be the number one noodle and snack food company in Myanmar.Our competitor now is Thailand's Yum Yum.With the availability of various types of flavour for our noodles, we are confident of overtaking the number one spot this year," he said.The construction of the Mamee plant in Myanmar commenced in 1996 and began operation in 1997.
    MGA gets two Burmese airport jobs

    The Star

    OUTDOOR advertising group Ganad Corp Bhd unit Myanmar Ganad Advertising Co Ltd (MGA) has been awarded the exclusive advertising rights for the two major airports in Myanmar by the Department of Civil Aviation.

    Ganad said in a statement that the 10-year concession gave MGA exclusive rights to manage the indoor and outdoor advertising spaces for both the Yangon international airport and the Mandalay international airport.
    Shangri-La plans major facelift costing RM84mil

    The Star

    SHANGRI-LA Hotels (M) Bhd plans to invest nearly RM84mil over the next two years to refurbish some of its assets in the country, especially the Shangri-La Kuala Lumpur.

    According to Kay, the Shangri-La Kuala Lumpur would undergo a major renovation programme starting in August to modernise and upgrade its facilities.She said that the renovation cost of RM80mil would be financed by internal resources and borrowings. Kay said that some of the upgraded facilities at the Shangri-La Kuala Lumpur were expected to start contributing to group revenue in 2002.

    On the company's 22.2% stake in Traders Hotel Yangon in Myanmar, which continued to incur a loss last year, Kay said:

    "The outlook remains difficult for this year. However, at the moment, we do not have any plan to dispose of our stake. We are there for the long haul.''
    Thai Senate panel backs shipment blocking

    Source : Bangkok Post

    Thailand is justified in blocking a shipment of power generator parts destined for Tachilek on national security grounds, the chairman of the Senate committee on the environment said yesterday.

    "If the shipment is allowed to go across the border it could lead to public chaos, which would affect national security," Panat Tasneeyanond, a former prosecutor, said.

    The Rak Mae Sai environmental group in Chiang Rai, comprising local villagers, has vowed to prevent the large convoy of trailer trucks from crossing into Burma.

    "This is beside the fact that the power plant could also facilitate the production of methamphetamines, and further complicate our suppression efforts," he said.

    Burma could complain officially, he said. Thailand was withholding the shipment even though all customs procedures had been complied with.

    However, national security was an overriding factor.

    The environmental impact from the power plant was a major concern for Thai residents on the northern border because Rangoon did not have firm control over the area.

    However, environmental concerns could not be cited as a reason to block the shipment.

    While Burma had the right to build the power plant in its own territory, it was nevertheless bound by the principle of "state responsibility" under international law and was accountable for any damage to its neighbours.

    The senator said legal sanctions in the international arena were often ineffective and difficult to enforce, but it was not just an issue of law. It was an issue of politics and economics.

    If sued and found guilty in the international court of law, a country was subject to scorn and pressure by the world community, Mr Panat said.

    He suggested Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai make Thailand's concern plain to Rangoon and ask for full information about the project.

    If bilateral discussions failed to resolve the issue, the government should explore possible mechanisms for redress within Asean.

    "We could lodge a protest with Asean citing environmental concerns about the project, making use of its existing environmental forum," he said.
    30 U.S senators urged Bush to maintain sanctions against Rangoon

    Source : South China Morning Post

    More than 30 United States senators have warned President George W. Bush not to ease sanctions against Rangoon lest he send the wrong signal to the military regime as it continues closed-door talks with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

    The senators said in a letter to the President that any lifting of sanctions on investments could "remove the incentive for the regime to negotiate" with Ms Aung San Suu Kyi.

    There was surprise this week when it appeared Japan had decided to reward the military regime merely for talking to the opposition leader by supplying aid to repair a Japanese-built hydro-power dam.

    The deafening silence from the meetings that started last October has convinced many observers that their primary purpose was to polish up the junta's image at a time of unprecedented international pressure. Ms Aung San Suu Kyi and most of her senior leadership remain either under house arrest or in jail and the regime has worried some Burma-watchers by not boasting about what are purported to be positive talks at any recent international gatherings, including the Geneva meeting of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

    Debbie Stothard, the co-ordinator of a pressure group, the Alternative Asean Network on Burma, said from Geneva that the Japanese had made a wrong move. "Their motives are highly questionable and it looks like rewarding them for talking to the NLD [National League for Democracy] when these talks haven't yielded any tangible results yet," she said. "What is it a reward for? Nothing so far."

    Sources have told the International Herald Tribune Japan consulted the US and United Nations about the aid.

    A Japanese source in Rangoon yesterday said Tokyo had offered to rebuild the Baluchaung dam in Kayah province - which supplies the country with one-third of its electricity - because "it was on the verge of falling apart". The aid is worth up to 3.5 billion yen (HK$223 million). It is the biggest Japanese aid donation since 1998, when Tokyo provided 2.5 billion yen to repair the dilapidated airport in Rangoon.

    Even Japanese officials who describe both projects as "humanitarian" admit the dam project is more overtly economic, but point out that the station was originally built with Japanese money provided as part of war reparations in 1960 and that the country suffers frequent power blackouts.

    A Western diplomat in Rangoon said that although Ms Aung San Suu Kyi might be aware of this aid, "no responsible person could claim that she has given her approval. How could she?"

    Increasingly observers think the International Labour Organisation's unprecedented call last November for sanctions against Burma, combined with fears the US might impose an import ban, persuaded the regime to talk to a woman they have frequently castigated in the state-controlled media as a dangerous and malevolent force.

    Burma was slammed for its "continuing pattern of gross and systematic violations of human rights" by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva last week and labour rights groups complain that even now, forced labour remains widespread.

    Meanwhile, the toning down of attacks on Ms Aung San Suu Kyi in the state press and the release of some political prisoners has been widely reported in hopeful terms. Yet several new political arrests have been made in recent months.
    Ethnic Group Protests Japan Aid For Burma's Hydropwr Plant

    BANGKOK (AP)--Ethnic Karenni opponents of Burma's ruling military said Friday that Japan's plan to provide $24 million to the regime for renovating a hydropower plant will only hurt local people.

    They claimed the electricity from the 39-year old Baluchaung hydropower plant has never provided for indigenous Karenni villagers, but only fed the capital Rangoon and Mandalay, the second largest city.

    "The Karennis there don't have a single light (bulb). They have to buy candles to burn," Doh Say, the director of foreign affairs for the Karenni National Progressive Party, or KNPP, told the Associated Press by telephone from northern Thailand.

    The KNPP has a small armed wing that fights a guerrilla war against the regime.

    Earlier this month, Japan announced it was considering a plan to renovate the power station, which was originally built in 1960 with Japanese war reparations to Burma. A final decision on the aid is expected by the year-end. With nearly 200 megawatt production capacity, the plant is the biggest electricity generator in Burma.

    The Japanese aid would represent the most significant foreign grant to Burma since the regime took power in 1988 after a bloody crackdown against a democracy uprising. Since then, donors have only allowed a trickle of humanitarian assistance.

    The grant from Japan is designed as incentive for the regime to press on with talks with democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party swept general elections in 1990 but has been barred from taking power.

    The talks, which began in secret in October, are seen as the most significant dialogue in a decade of political deadlock, although there has been no public announcement on how they are progressing.

    The KNPP said in a statement this week that providing aid would only "further entrench and empower a government that holds no regard for the people of Burma." It asked that plans to rebuild or repair the dam be stopped.

    Doh Say said that seven villages had been forcibly moved out of the Lawpita area around the power station in the early 1990s to secure the plant. Rebel guerrillas had attacked the plant and electricity pylons in the past.

    Doh Say claimed that thousands of anti-personnel land mines have also been laid in the area, which lies about 320 kilometers northeast of Rangoon, often injuring villagers and livestock.

    In 1998, when water levels in Balu river became low, water was diverted from farmlands to supply the turbines, Doh Say said. He feared the problem would worsen if the power plant was expanded.

    "Whatever they do, the Karenni people will face forced labor and more land mines will be laid," he said.

    The rebels signed a cease-fire with the Burmese regime in 1994, but took up arms again when they said government forces invaded their territory and cut timber. The regime has accused the KNPP rebels of involvement in the drugs trade.

    Nearly 20,000 Karenni refugees live in Thailand.