Daily News-April 30- 2001- Monday

  • ASEAN foreign ministers gather in Burma for casual talks
  • Delhi wary of Musharraf's visit to Burma
  • Police "confirm" large heroin shipment into Vanuatu in November
  • US trains secret Thai anti-drugs troops
  • US special forces in fight to curb Burma drugs
  • Burma showing potential for investors
  • City folk support truck ban
  • Burmese man sought over death of colleague
  • Burma Says It Is Serious About Talks With Opposition
  • Burma lashes out at Thailand over border shelling
  • Thai-Burmese tensions cast shadow on Rangoon ASEAN meeting

  • ASEAN foreign ministers gather in Burma for casual talks

    Yangon [Rangoon], 29 April:(Kyodo) Foreign ministers from 10 Southeast Asian nations gathered Sunday [29 April] in Myanmar [Burma]'s capital for candid talks on regional and international issues.The 10 ministers began their meeting with dinner Sunday evening and are to gather again Monday at a golf course.

    Singapore Foreign Minister Shanmugam Jayakumar said upon his arrival earlier in the day that the meeting would be "sort of a huddle with free exchanges of views". "I would assume that we will discuss both regional and international development," said the Singapore foreign minister.

    Jayakumar said the ministers would probably also discuss the future direction of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), including augmented cooperation with three northeast Asian nations - China, Japan and South Korea.

    "It's also timely because there have been changes in governments and new foreign ministers. And this gives an opportunity for some of us to meet with our new colleagues from Philippines and Thailand," he said.

    Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said he would brief his ASEAN colleagues on the economic and foreign policies of the new administration led by populist Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Surakiart said he would also raise the issue of illicit drug trafficking in the region but would not discuss it bilaterally with Myanmar, calling instead for trilateral cooperation among Thailand, Myanmar and China. Myanmar has repeatedly said precursor chemicals for making illicit drugs are imported from neighbouring countries, particularly Thailand and China.

    Myanmar Foreign Minister Win Aung said Sunday the ASEAN foreign ministers will also discuss closer integration among member countries. ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
    Delhi wary of Musharraf's visit to Burma

    The Hindu (New Delhi) -April 28, 2001
    By Atul Aneja

    NEW DELHI, APRIL 27. Concerned about the growing links between India and Myanmar, the Pakistan Chief Executive, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, has decided to visit Yangon early next month. Gen. Musharraf is expected to reach the Myanmarese capital on May 5. This is a rescheduled visit as the General had earlier planned to visit Myanmar in early January, prior to the visit there by the External Affairs Minister,Mr. Jaswant Singh.

    Government sources here say that there could be a strategic slant to the Musharraf visit as Islamabad is looking for a hold along India's eastern borders ever since it lost East Pakistan to Bangladesh. Not surprisingly, India will monitor this visit closely.

    Pakistan, according to sources, is keen on establishing a ``presence'' in Myanmar. That can come by negotiating ``commercial openings'',which would allow it to send Pakistani nationals in the country for long durations, analysts here say. China, suspected of viewing Myanmar as a gateway for acquiring influence in the Bay of Bengal area, has mastered the art of exploiting commercial opportunities for promoting security goals.

    For instance, China positioned its nationals in time- consuming infrastructure projects for construction of roads, railways, airfields and ports in Myanmar earlier. Beijing, among others, has developed Myanmar's Hainggyi base, constructed a rail link from Kalemyo to Pokakku and developed the airfields of Mandalay, Pegu and Yangon.

    Similar intent by Pakistan, though obviously on a qualitatively much smaller scale, is bound to concern India. India realises that the presence of any forces in Myanmar, which are inimical to its interests, can have a negative impact on India's national security. Several areas of Myanmar, such as the Hukwang valley and the areas west of the Chindwin river, have been used as bases by Naga insurgents. An assured Pakistani presence in Yangon, therefore, can result in contacts which can be used for promoting insurgency along India's northeastern frontiers further.

    Gen. Musharraf's visit is expected to lead to an expansion of military contacts between Islamabad and Yangon. Pakistan, is looking for an opening to sell its arms. In fact, Myanmar is not a new market for Islamabad as it has sold two consignments of weapons and ammunition worth $2.5 million in March-April 1999. Pakistan, which is familiar with Chinese weapons which it imports in large numbers, is also looking for tying up with Myanmar for the supply of spare parts. Like Pakistan, Myanmar also imports large quantities of Chinese military equipment.

    Sources point out that of late Pakistan has been taking greater recourse to arms sales as levers for drawing diplomatic benefits. For instance, its military sales to Sri Lanka during the heat of an LTTE offensive has been a factor in bringing it closer to Colombo.

    Given Pakistan's proximity to China, India will closely observe the extent to which the Myanmarese react to Islamabad's overtures during the Musharraf visit. As of now, the Myanmarese are keen to ``balance'' their close relations with China by forging strong ties with India.

    The visit of General Maung Aye to India and the trip by Mr. Jaswant Singh for the inauguration of the strategic Tamu- Kalewa road link was interpreted here as a manifestation of this policy. Any deviation from this stance, during the Musharraf visit, is expected to activate India's security concerns.
    Police "confirm" large heroin shipment into Vanuatu in November

    BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom; Apr 29, 2001

    Police have confirmed that a massive consignment of high-grade heroin,some 160 kg in weight, was brought into Vanuatu last November and is either being hidden here or has already been moved out of the country.

    When a huge heroin stockpile of 370 kg was seized by international agencies in Fiji's capital Suva last October, little did Vanuatu know that it would have serious repercussions for us and result in a major drugs investigation by Australian Federal Police [AFP] agents and the Vanuatu Police Force here...

    As a result of the bust two Chinese men were arrested in Fiji. One had been living in Hong Kong and one in China. Other Chinese were arrested in Myanmar, Burma.

    As a result of the arrests through "Operation Longrunner", as it was named, police in Vanuatu were tipped off earlier this year that they had been told an identical consignment of drugs in tee-shirts, packed by the same organization and shipped out by the same company in Burma, was sent to Vanuatu with 160 kg of heroin and would have arrived here in November last year.

    Police in Vanuatu conducted their own investigations and found that a container had arrived in Vanuatu from Myanmar, Burma, packed with identical boxes to the ones discovered in Fiji consisting of blue, navy and grey tee-shirts.

    The tip-off they had received had been accurate. The consignment had been shipped to a Vanuatu-registered company owned by a Ni-Vanuatu through Chinese nationals who have now reportedly skipped the country. Boxes of the tee-shirts ended up in Vila and were sold [there]... as well as in Malekula, but there is no sign of the drugs. They have either been moved out, outside the country, or still remain hidden somewhere in the islands.The Vanuatu police called in the Australian Federal Police and up to 10 specialists involved with the Fiji drugs bust flew into Vanuatu a few weeks ago and have been collecting evidence and following up leads...

    Police believe the syndicates have attempted to use the instability in the region as an opportunity to expand their criminal networks. Australian Federal Police acting Commissioner Mick Keelty said the heroin originated in Myanmar, where Australian intelligence officers had been stationed for the past 10 months. "There's little doubt in our minds that the majority of this heroin was destined for Australia," Keelty added.Fijian and Vanuatu police authorities were unaware of the syndicate until notified by Australian police...

    The fact that such a massive quantity of heroin, which would have been the equivalent of filling 10 large cardboard boxes, came into Vanuatu without customs finding out and has either been transhipped out or remains hidden somewhere in Vanuatu is a concern to government authorities and the police...

    [Note: Radio Vanuatu reported (0100 gmt 26 April): "The two men who have been in police custody since Monday morning [23 April] have been released yesterday. The two were detained and questioned as part of the ongoing investigation into the drugs case.

    "The duo claimed that they were been forced by Australian Federal Police and members of the Vanuatu Police Force to admit their involvement and to provide information on the whereabouts of the drugs. One of the suspects said after their release that the investigating team searched both his house and his office but could not find any trace of the drugs. He said he has consulted his lawyer this morning following his arrest. Police confirmed they have a search warrant to search the men's house."]
    US trains secret Thai anti-drugs troops

    ABC Online, Apr 29, 2001

    United States Special Forces troops have begun training a new covert Thai military unit that will join the fight against drug trafficking along theThailand-Myanmar border.

    The unit formed last year is being trained at military bases in northern Thailand by 30 US Special Forces instructors from Fort Lewis, Washington. According to a report in the Bangkok Post newspaper, the task force's main mission is to deal directly with drug traffickers along its border with Burma.

    The training operation code-named "Baker Torch" will teach Thai troops to use hi-tech gear and helicopters at Thai military bases in Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son, near the Myanmar border.

    An army official told the Bangkok Post that Thai army chief General Surayud Chulanont had requested the US assistance while on an official visit to theUnited States in 1999. The troops will help the Thai army rachet up its offensive against drug traffickers along the border using eight attack helicopters, night-visionequipment and other sophisticated weaponry.
    US special forces in fight to curb Burma drugs

    (Jane's Defence Weekly 4 April).

    Thailand-Myanmar border

    US special forces personnel will train a new task force in Thailand being formed to stem the flow of narcotics from laboratories across the country's northern and western border with Myanmar.

    The Royal Thai Army (RTA) has taken an active role in drug suppression efforts since 1998, but this is the first time a dedicated armed task force has been set up to fight the illicit narcotics trade.

    Senior Thai and foreign security officials say the task force will comprise about 20 instructors from the US Army's 1st Special Forces Group along with 100 Thai special forces personnel, two infantry companies of 123 men each and 98 men from the Thai Border Patrol Police.

    A US Pacific Command spokesman said that US special forces will teach the Thai troops basic skills such as leadership, land navigation and first aid. He would not confirm the number of US personnel to be deployed. The training will likely conclude in September. The USA has been supporting the Thai government with counter-drug training since 1994, the spokesman said.

    Additional Thai military and Border Patrol Police, including logistical support units and medical teams, will be based at the task force's headquarters in Mae Rim district, 20km north of Chiang Mai. The unit has been codenamed Task Force 399 and should be fully operational by November, complete with two new S-70 Black Hawk helicopters and the latest night-vision and radar equipment.

    The RTA has a list of some 60 drug laboratories across the border in northeastern Myanmar. Some produce heroin, an opium derivative, but it is a new flood of methamphetamines from these laboratories that has prompted Bangkok to take stronger action against the traffickers. Most laboratories are in areas controlled by the United Wa State Army (UWSA), a former rebel group allied with Yangon.

    Task Force 399 is mandated to confront drug traffickers on the Thai side of the border. Washington also stresses that its assistance aims to interdict drug traffickers inside Thailand, with no involvement in cross-border operations. However, a new narcotics intelligence unit to be based in Chiang Mai is part of the joint Thai-US project, and it should be heavily dependent on informants inside Myanmar.

    Links between the UWSA and the Myanmar armed forces may also make it difficult for Task Force 399 to avoid confrontations, directly or indirectly, with Yangon's forces. Tension between Thailand and Myanmar led to some skirmishing at the border towns of Mae Sai and Tachilek in February, and several official border crossings have since remained closed .
    Burma showing potential for investors

    By Ramlan Said /NSTP- 29 April 2001

    MYANMAR is not only rich in natural resources but its 50-million population provides a steady source of workers. Coupled with cheap wages, investing in Myanmar seems the right choice to be made, especially for labour-intensive industries.

    Infrastructure like roads, bridges and industrial zones are being built to make transportation of goods more efficient and speedier. Airports are being upgraded or new ones built. The new Mandalay International Airport, for instance, can now accommodate Boeing 747 aircraft. Similar focus is being given to ports.

    The people's purchasing power has increased over the decade. So has the standard of living. The number of new condominiums and apartments coming up in the Yangon area is one indicator that Myanmar today has changed for the better.

    Malaysian ambassador to Myanmar Datuk Mohamed Noh, as such, did not hesitate to call on Malaysian businessmen to open up or relocate their operations to Myanmar. He said Malaysia had many labour-intensive industries that could be relocated to countries like Myanmar to take advantage of the cheap labour.

    Manual workers are generally paid between RM60 and RM70 per month compared to more than RM500 in Malaysia.

    "Come and 'park' yourselves now before the entry of giants from the other countries," he told a delegation of Malaysian journalists in Yangon last week. Mohamed felt that once the big boys arrived on the scene, it would be difficult for Malaysian businessmen to compete unless they managed to build the contacts and networks .This, he said, could only materialise if Malaysian businessmen were to enter the country now.

    "The laws on investment are similar to Malaysia. There are no problems actually," he said. Another factor that should be capitalised by businessmen are the close ties between Myanmar and Malaysia, following a visit to Myanmar by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad in January.

    "The close ties provide a conducive environment for Malaysian companies to invest here. This is one advantage not available to other foreign investors." The ambassador is a strong advocate of the "prosper-thy-neighbour" policy espoused by Dr Mahathir. He feels Malaysia should help the economies of Asean member countries.

    As an emerging country rich in natural and human resources, Myanmar encourages private sector participation for rapid and sustainable development. Foreign investment is allowed in almost all sectors of the economy that still relies heavily on agro-based industries. What is in store for Malaysian companies?

    Mohamed said potential areas are maize and oil palm, mining and construction of infrastructure projects. In the food production industry, Malaysia's familiar noodle snack brand, Mamee, has carved a name under Myanmar Mamee Double Decker Ltd after just four years in the market. Khaun Mha Khaung (tasty and delicious), the product's tagline in Myanmar, has become a popular jingle among local people. With an annual growth rate of 60 per cent, the company is confident it will not be long before it emerges as the No. 1 noodle and snack food company in Myanmar. It employs 130 local workers at its factory located in the Pyin Ma Bin Industrial Complex outside Yangon.

    Lieutenant Colonel Hla Min, from the Office of Strategic Studies, Ministry of Defence, did not hide his disappointment over the misrepresentation in the media about his country. He said people always had the impression that Myanmar was not stable, the situation volatile with bombs exploding here and there.

    "Even the United States advises its nationals against travelling to Myanmar. We do not want to argue with their perception. What we can say is come and experience life in this country on your own. See and then be your own judge."

    Hla Min was confident that visitors would go back with a different outlook. "It is one of the safest places in the country for tourists," he assured. The colonel, however, did not dispute that travelling to some parts of the country like the border areas with Thailand was still not permitted while other regions required permission. But it was a matter of time before these restrictions would be lifted as efforts towards reconciliation, via development, gained momentum.

    Hla Min said development in these areas was part of the confidence-building measures. "When the people can actually see and enjoy the benefits of development, gradually we will gain their trust and confidence."

    The effectiveness of this approach has been demonstrated in the border areas of Lauk Kai and Monglar in the Shan State. Once the stronghold of drug lords and insurgents, Monglar has been declared free of drugs while three-quarters of land grown with opium in Lauk Kai have been replaced with other crops. The policy adopted by Yangon is to pit development against opium, and to date, the former seems to have gained the upper hand.
    City folk support truck ban


    Most Bangkok residents support the Third Army's move to stop 44 trucks crossing the border to deliver construction materials to a Burmese power plant, an opinion poll has found.

    The Bangkok University survey canvassed the opinions of 1,300 residents from 26 city districts between April 26-27.

    Concerned citizens earlier rallied in front of Mae Sae checkpoint in Chiang Rai to stop the convoy from crossing the Burmese border, citing environmental concerns.

    Of the respondents, over 68% agreed with Third Army commander Lt-Gen Watthanachai Chaimuenwong's decision to stop the trucks crossing Mae Sai border checkpoint into Tachilek. Over 17% were against the move while 15% had no comment.

    About 38% believed certain politicians were behind the delivery of the construction materials to the Burmese power plant, just over 10% ruled out political involvement, while 51% had no comment.

    Over 53% of those questioned thought the blockade would affect Thailand's relationship with Burma, under 32% believed there would be no impact and 15% had no opinion.

    Around 68% were against the permanent closure of Mae Sai checkpoint, over 18% wanted the checkpoint closed, and 13% made no comment.
    Burmese man sought over death of colleague

    thestar.com.my, Apr 29, 2001

    KUALA LUMPUR: Police are seeking the help of the public to locate a scrap metal company employee believed to have slashed his colleague to death in Old Klang Road on April 15.

    City police public relations officer Asst Supt Nor Azmi Isa said Myanmar national Kyaw Tint Aung, 40, (Passport No: 054134) was working in Mukunthan Bersaudara Company for more than five years and in the Selayang wholesale market. He added the suspect, who spoke Tamil, was 1.7m tall and had a mole on the left side of his forehead.

    The suspect is believed to have had an argument with R. Mayilpandi, an Indian national, before slashing him at 12.30pm.

    Police are investigating the case under Section 302 of the Penal Code and urged those with information to contact Insp T. Sivakumar at tel: 03-2146 0681 or 2146 0685 or the nearest police station.
    Burma Says It Is Serious About Talks With Opposition

    Rangoon (AP)--Burma's military junta said Monday that its reconciliation efforts with democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi are very much alive, and asserted that the talks weren't a "public relations stunt" to appease critics.

    But there was no time frame for completing the talks because "it is a timeless business," Foreign Minister Win Aung told reporters.

    He said the progress and details of the talks, which began in secret in October, will remain confidential and mustn't be disclosed.

    Win Aung's statement was the most unequivocal sign yet of the junta's desire to end the political deadlock that has gripped Burma since the generals refused to hand over power to Suu Kyi's party after it won general elections in 1990.

    "The internal process is our business, our own process. And we are not playing games...it is not a public relations stunt. This is for the sake of the people of Myanmar, 52 million people," Win Aung said.

    He said the seriousness of the talks can be judged by the fact that Burma's media, which is controlled by the government, has stopped its attacks on Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party, while the opposition also has stopped criticizing the junta.

    "Confrontations on both sides have stopped. Is it good for the country? Yes of course," Win Aung said.

    He was speaking to reporters after attending an informal meeting of the foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

    "We hope that this process, which is very much complex and delicate, should be left (alone) and should not be discussed right now because the future of the country much depends on this," he said.

    Myanmar has faced intense Western criticism over the treatment of its critics. It held elections in 1990 but refused to honor the results that gave the NLD a victory.

    Since then the junta has harassed NLD members and kept Suu Kyi under house arrest on different occasions. Even now she has been restricted to her home since Sept. 22.
    Burma lashes out at Thailand over border shelling

    BANGKOK, April 30 (AFP)

    Burma's ruling junta accused Thailand of using its firepower to defend a rebel ethnic army along the Burma-Thailand border in an offical statement released Monday.

    Burma said, after reports that Thai army forces had fired some 30 artillery warning shots "towards Myanmar" Sunday, that hundreds of shots had been fired over Myanmar troop positions and were intended to shield ethnic Shan State Army (SSA) "drug bandits."

    "The Thai army is again coming up with an excuse to be able to give (the an artillery fire support from across the border creating military escalation and causing unnecessary aggravation and tension," the statement said.

    Burma also accused Thai troops of participating in an attack last week by SSA troops that left seven government soldiers dead.

    In helping the SSA, Thailand was effectively harbouring drug criminals as the ethnic militia had been shown to be involved in the heroin and amphetamine trade, the statement said.

    Relations between Thailand and Burma reached 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 last weekend's raid by SSA rebels on a Burmese border outpost has reignited tensions.

    "Various drug bandits with no intention and programs for narcotic drug elimination are being heralded as drug-busters cum freedom fighters by the Thai authorities," it said, referring to the SSA.

    "Thailand has not yet been taking any serious steps in preventing essential chemicals for the production of heroin and methamphetamines to fall into the hands of crime syndicates."

    In what the Thai military has described as the nation's top security threat, some 700 million methamphetamines pills are estimated to make their way into Thailand each year, feeding a massive addiction problem.

    Thailand's new Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra fired the opening shot in the war of words earlier this year by declaring a "war on drugs" and ordering officials to find ways to close down the narcotics trade.

    Meanwhile Rangoon has accused the Thai army of using the SSA to fight a proxy war, while at the same time justifying its crackdown on the rebels to curtail their role in the production and trafficking of drugs.

    The SSA is one of the only major armed factions in Burma yet to agree to a ceasefire with Rangoon. It has been fighting for an independent state for decades.
    Thai-Burmese tensions cast shadow on Rangoon ASEAN meeting

    Source : MSNBC / Reuters

    Rangoon, April 30---Southeast Asian foreign ministers held informal talks in Rangoon on Monday on strengthening regional unity in a meeting overshadowed by smouldering tension between Burma and Thailand over drugs and a series of clashes on their shared border.

    Vietnamese Foreign Minister Nguyen Dy Nien, who chaired the meeting as Vietnam holds the rotating chairmanship of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), said the key focus of the talks was ''how to strengthen ASEAN both within and without.''

    Burma Foreign Minister Win Aung told a closing news conference the talks had been very fruitful, but stressed that no formal decisions had been taken.

    ''This informal meeting was not to make specific decisions. There are no declarations, no resolutions,'' he said. ''It's about the exchange of views and the free flow of ideas and points of view.''

    He said the regional bloc had been strengthened by the meeting. ''We feel that we are all friends,'' he added.

    But as ministers discussed regional unity in the closed-door meeting, accusations were flying between Rangoon and Bangkok over the latest hostilities on the border.

    A senior Thai army source confirmed to Reuters the army had fired ''a lot of rounds'' as ''warning shots'' over the Burmese border on Sunday after stray mortar fire from Rangoon troops had landed in Thai territory.

    The Burmese troops are fighting to retake three bases, just 100 metres (yards) from the Thai border, that were overrun by ethnic minority Shan rebels earlier this month.

    Relations between the countries soured in February after another exchange of fire between Thai and Burmese troops which left several dead.

    Bangkok says the United Wa State Army, a militia group allied to the Rangoon government, is the source of most of the drugs flooding Thailand.

    But Burma says the Shan State Army is the region's main drugs producer, and has repeatedly accused the Thai army of supporting the drugs trade and aiding the rebels.


    In an angry statement on Monday, the Burmese government branded the Shan rebels as ''drug bandits'' and said its campaign against them was part of its efforts to crack down on illegal narcotics.

    It said the Thai army was ''creating military escalation and causing unnecessary aggravation,'' and attacked Thai anti-drugs efforts.

    ''Regretfully, observers view Thailand's anti-narcotic policy to be going off the mark while the Thai public and the media are being taken for a ride with its anti-Wa rhetoric and its scapegoating-thy-neighbour policy while harbouring its drug criminals and armed outlaws,'' the statement said.

    Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai, making his first official visit to Burma, is scheduled to stay on in Rangoon until Wednesday for bilateral talks with Win Aung.

    Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has pledged to wage war on drugs, in particular the hundreds of millions of methamphetamine tablets flooding Thailand from Burma.

    The Thai government says it is trying to promote trilateral cooperation between Thailand, Burma and China to crack down on drugs.

    Win Aung said the issue of drugs had been discussed at the ASEAN meeting, with the bloc still committed to a goal of eradicating illegal drugs by 2015. He said disagreements between Burma and Thailand had not been discussed, but would be addressed in bilateral talks with Surakiart.

    Suriakiart said ahead of the talks that relations between the two countries remained good despite the border clashes.

    ''I reiterate that the relationship between the two countries is still very good,'' he said.

    ''We still have a certain level of good understanding and with this visit I hope to look forward to have a deeper understanding and to lay down all issues of concern to both sides and find common ground to resolve them.''