Daily News-August 17 - 2001- Friday

  • Australia sponsors human rights workshop in Burma
  • Laotian Prime Minister and Wife To Pay Official Visit to Myanmar
  • Exhibition of "The Legacy of Bagan" Opens
  • God's army twins seek move to U.S.
  • Burmese army to form new military commands
  • US-based dissidents denounce Khin Nyunt’s planned visit
  • Thailand and Burma to set up joint forces at Rangoon and Don Muang airports

  • Australia sponsors human rights workshop in Burma

    Australian Broadcasting Corporation

    After four decades of repressive military rule, hopes are now high that Burma's military junta may broker a deal with the leader of the nation's democracy movement, Aung San Suu Kyi. And, as that very secretive dialogue has developed, so too has a different dialogue between Burma's junta and the Australian Government. For the second year running, Australia has sponsored a series of human rights education workshops for Burmese civil servants. As a result, Australia is the flavour of the month for Burma's rulers, which the international community accuses of being among the world's worst human rights violators.


    GEOFF THOMPSON: In a Mandalay night, a pointedly apolitical dance by candlelight. This is the home of Burma's most famous family of dancers and comedians. Every night there's a show.A few appreciative tourists and at least one observer from military intelligence.The brothers are celebrated for their closeness to Aung San Suu Kyi and as an absurd example of Burma's human rights abuses. That's why one brother is hiding backstage. Just last week, he was released after spending 4.5 years in jail, locked up for singing a funny song about Burma's ruling generals.

    CHRIS SIDOTI, FORMER AUSTRALIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSIONER: The best way to learn, particularly about human rights, is dialogue, exchange -- questions, comments, debate.

    GEOFF THOMPSON: During the day, just across town, a human rights workshop is being run by Australia's former Human Rights Commissioner, Chris Sidoti.

    CHRIS SIDOTI: I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to be here again to be involved in the human rights training program and particularly pleased that we are conducting the first of these programs outside Yangon.

    GEOFF THOMPSON: It's the fifth such course since the Australian Government initiative began this time last year. Each time, 25 middle-ranking public servants are hand picked by Burma's military government -- the State Peace and Development Council, or SPDC.

    CHRIS SIDOTI: There is a need, in my view, to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves to even raise the visibility, the acceptability of human rights discussion in this society. And this is a small program that provides that opportunity.

    GEOFF THOMPSON: What contribution can human rights training make without the commitment to protect human rights?

    CHRIS SIDOTI: Only a limited contribution. Human rights protection, ultimately requires political will.

    GEOFF THOMPSON: It's a will that's been lacking here for 40 years. In that time, the ruling generals have drawn international criticism for violating the human rights of many of Burma's 50 million people.Most remain desperately poor and cut off from a rapidly modernising world.Burma lives with economic sanctions and is accused by international agencies of condoning a continuing culture of arbitrary arrest, torture and forced labour.

    Bangkok-based Kevin Heppner provides the International Labour Organisation with military orders for forced labour, collected from ethnic minorities along Burma's border.Lobbyists like him have no faith in Australia's human rights workshops.

    KEVIN HEPPNER, KAREN HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP: Yes, people will go to the training and they'll hear everything in the training but they know that none of this -- if they try to implement anything they've been trained in they'll end up in jail. And they don't even have to be told that. They know it from experience.

    GEOFF THOMPSON: Back in Mandalay, workshop participants are openly debating the forced labour issue.

    CHRIS SIDOTI: These are issues that are debated in the international community and they're issuesthat I know are debated within Myanmar itself, particularly this question of forced labour.

    BURMESE DELEGATE: Every effort to double the economy of a country, I think sometimes, in some areas, that, sort of, forced labour will exist.

    CHRIS SIDOTI: Does the fact that forced labour has a long history in this country justify its continuation today?

    BURMESE DELEGATE: I don't want to justify --

    CHRIS SIDOTI: Exactly.

    GEOFF THOMPSON: Officially sanctioned debate of such sensitive issues is a new thing for Burma. But it's far from clear whether these enquiring minds will survive beyond this classroom. Do you think that Burma has human rights problems?

    WOMAN: Problems? No I really don't think so. We have fair relationship with each other.

    MAN: I think there's no problem about the human rights.


    MAN: Yes.

    CHRIS SIDOTI: I'd expect them to say that before an ABC TV camera.This is not a society that has encouraged frankness about human rights performance.

    GEOFF THOMPSON: Officially at least, Burma's military is treating the training seriously.It sent its home affairs minister to open the workshop in Mandalay.

    COLONEL TIN HLAING, BURMA HOME AFFAIRS MINISTER: These participants at the workshops will later share their trained knowledge with other people in the departments and the executive committee and later to the people. Step by step we will expand the human rights programs.

    GEOFF THOMPSON: By sponsoring the workshops, Australia is running the risk of helping the junta sanitise its human rights record before the international community.

    CHRIS SIDOTI: I'm aware of the risks.I have always been aware of the risks. As I've said, to my mind, the situation here over the last 40 years has been such that it's justified, indeed it's morally obligatory to accept a reasonable level of risk to try and effect whatever small changes we can in the human rights observance here.

    GEOFF THOMPSON: Burma has listed the workshops as a human rights achievement before the United Nations.But at home the program has been kept very quiet. The Australian initiative is now receiving positive reviews from other foreign missions here in Rangoon.But the workshops have not enjoyed the endorsement of Burma's most prominent human rights advocate and democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi herself.Early last year her opposition was unequivocal.

    AUNG SAN SUU KYI, BURMA DEMOCRACY LEADER, (MAY 2000): We do not like this move because we do not think that it's really meant to help the democratic forces in Burma. We see it as a move to improve Australia's relationship with the SPDC.

    GEOFF THOMPSON: Since then, Chris Sidoti has met with Aung San Suu Kyi.

    CHRIS SIDOTI: I didn't feel she was enthusiastic about the courses, I didn't feel she was hostile towards them.But the public comment that she authorised me to say as her view was we had discussed them in a very positive way.

    GEOFF THOMPSON: Which is a description of your talks with her, not a description of the workshops?

    CHRIS SIDOTI: Yes, of course.

    GEOFF THOMPSON: But there's no dancing around the fact that because of the workshops Burma's junta now has very positive feelings for the Australian Government.

    COLONEL TIN HLAING: The Australian Government's view is the military regime is also doing many good things for the country and the changes in providing training will help the nation's development. It's absolutely true that our country needs the military and a strong government.The Australian Government sees that and helps us.

    U KHIN MAUNG WIN, BURMA DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER: I would definitely say that, you know, the outlook and approach of Australia towards Myanmar, is much more welcomed than those of the other Western nations.

    GEOFF THOMPSON: High praise from a country where telling a joke or even singing a song can land you in jail.

    Transcripts from programs "AM", "The World Today", "PM", the "7:30 Report" and "Lateline" are created by an independent transcription service. The ABC does not warrant the accuracy of the transcripts. ABC Online users are advised to listen to the audio provided on this page to verify the accuracy of the transcripts.
    Laotian Prime Minister and Wife To Pay Official Visit to Myanmar

    Information Sheet- N0. B-1923( I )-16th August, 2001

    At the invitation of the Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council and Prime Minister of the Union of Myanmar His Excellency Senior General Than Shwe and Daw Kyaing Kyaing, Prime Minister of the Lao People`s Democratic Republic His Excellency Mr. Boungnang Vorachith and Madame Khammeung Vorachith will pay an official goodwill visit to the Union of Myanmar in the near future.
    Exhibition of "The Legacy of Bagan" Opens

    Information Sheet- N0. B-1923( I )-16th August, 2001

    The opening ceremony of the exhibition of "The Legacy of Bagan" was held at the National Museum in Yangon on 15 August, with an address by the Minister for Culture.

    The Minister pointed out the fact that the opening ceremony of the exhibition on "The Legacy of Bagan" was organised by the Department of Archaeology to implement the policy of the Ministry of Culture (which is "....to preserve, expose and cherish Myanma cultural heritage with a view to promoting the spirit of appreciation on cultural heritage and to uplift the spirit of national patriotism".) on one hand and to commemorate the centenary of the founding of the Department of Archaeology which will fall on early 2002 on the other.

    Throughout the Bagan historic period, Bagan kings, ministers, royal families and people built a large number of stupas, temples, ordination halls and brick monasteries. It is amazing to observe the number of monuments (4446) in an area of 19 square miles.

    This is one and the only site in the world. However, at the end of Bagan period, due to earthquake, gradually many ancient monuments got deteriorated and many monuments had collapsed and turned into brick mounds.

    Moreover, after Myanmar became a British colony, all the ruined ancient monuments were not given priority for renovation and preservation. Similarly, a few ancient monuments had been selected for preservation. Many monuments were left in deterioration.

    After 1975 earthquake many monuments collapsed or became damaged. So when the Department of Archaeology carried out renovation work on monuments in 1993, the number of Bagan ancient monuments were reduced from 4446 to 2230. Many also became heaps of brick mounds.

    In undertaking the restoration work, the Ministry of Culture has laid down three objectives: (1) to undertake the restoration work in order to get the full satisfaction of the donors (2) to undertake the restoration work without destroying the original workmanship and to build in its original design, (3) to undertake restoration and preservation work to make it last longer. In line with these objectives, the Department of Archaeology has done timely restoration of 1101 ancient temples and stupas out of 1175 and only 74 monuments remain for restoration.

    Moreover, the Department of Archaeology has already excavated 447 mounds out of 892. Excavations revealed the remains of temples, stupas and monasteries. After excavation, many excavated structures have been reconstructed. Now the number of reconstructed monuments has reached up to 227. If the number 892 will be added to the existing monuments number 2230, the total number will become more than 3000. The exhibition opens till 15 September daily from 10 am to 4 pm. Visitors will be entertained by the Bagan dance on Saturday and Sunday. Admission is K 10 for adults, K 5 for children, students, monks and nuns and two US dollars or two FECs for foreigners.
    God`s army twins seek move to U.S.

    Straits Times

    JOHNNY and Luther Htoo, the God's Army twins who as boys fought Myanmar troops, still want to move to the US rather than live as refugees along the Thai-Myanmar border, an official said yesterday. A local report had said they wanted to remain in Thailand. --AP
    Burmese army to form new military commands

    Text of report by DVB on 15 August

    DVB has learned that the SPDC, in accord with its Defence Services expansion programme, has been continuously establishing new Military Operations Management Commands [MOMC] and has recently formed Military Operations Management Command-24.

    These military commands, more popularly known as Sa Ka Kha [Sit Sin Ye Kut Ke Hmu Hta Na Choke], have been established in the form of a military division with 10 operational battalions and many detachments including artillery, transport, signals, and intelligence units. Thus, the full strength of a MOMC is estimated to be over 9,000 active personnel.

    International military observers have estimated the strength of the SPDC Defence Services to be about 400,000 troops but that is likely to increase to 500,000. The present organizational structure of the Burmese army is 12 military commands, 10 light infantry divisions, and 24 newly formed MOMCs.All the military commands, light infantry divisions, and the MOMCs are formed with 10 battalions each. All nine management commands - MOMC-16 to 24 - were established within this year and the plan is to establish up to MOMC-30. MOMC-16 is stationed at Mong Ko, MOMC-17 is at Namhkam, MOMC-18 in Chin State, MOMC-19 in Mon State, and MOMC-20 in Tenasserim Division.Preparations are under way to station MOMC-21 to 24 in Shan State.

    According to DVB's sources, the SPDC is planning to form stealthily many MOMCs because the official formation of any new military command or division will not only be condemned by the international community, it will also complicate the administrative structure.

    DVB has learned that the recently formed MOMC-19 in Ye Township, Mon State and MOMC-20 in Bokpyin Township, Tenasserim Division, are still recruiting men and both have so far enlisted about five battalions each made up of men selected from other battalions and new recruits. The new battalions for MOMC-19 are Light Infantry Battalion [LIB] 586, 587, 588, 591, and 592 and the headquarters are being constructed near Lamaing and Kyaung Villages in Ye Township. Although the new battalions for MOMC-20 are not yet known,over 1,000 soldiers have already arrived at Kyaukkhamaung Village in Bokpyin Township and have started building the command headquarters.

    The Southeast Military Command and the Coastal Region Military Command have already confiscated about 2,000 acres of farmland from the farmers to build the two new MOMCs. Furthermore, each command is using about 500 prisoners and many villagers from the neighbouring area as labourers. One villager from every household has to contribute volunteer labour and also has to supply wood, bamboo and other materials.
    US-based dissidents denounce Khin Nyunt’s planned visit

    source : the Nation

    Burmese dissidents and human rights activists in the United States yesterday condemned the upcoming visit of Burma’s security chief, Lt General Khin Nyunt, and plan to stage a protest tomorrow in front of the Thai Embassy in Washington DC.

    Protesters will picket the Thai Embassy after marching from the Lafayette Park in front of the White House where they have been holding vigil since August 8, said a statement from the USbased Free Burma Coalition.

    Khin Nyunt is the thirdhighest ranking officer in the ruling State Peace Development Council (SPDC), the highest decisionmaking body in military ruled Burma. His visit to Thailand next month is being billed as part of an ongoing attempt to improve bilateral relations between the two countries that have been strained by crossborder clashes.
    Thailand and Burma to set up joint forces at Rangoon and Don Muang airports

    Source : Bangkok Post

    Thailand and Burma will join forces to combat drug smuggling via Rangoon and Don Muang airports, a bilateral drug meeting has decided.

    A two-day meeting between senior Thai and Burmese drug, intelligence and customs officers wrapped up in Phuket yesterday.

    Rangoon and Don Muang airports were prone to drug trafficking, so it made sense for customs officials to co-ordinate joint efforts from there, officials decided.

    Burma's anti-drug agency will exchange information with Thailand to track down drug production bases by finding the source of seized drugs.

    Under a memorandum of understanding, three co-ordinating stations will be set up by each side along the border at Chiang Rai and Tachilek, Mae Sot and Myawaddy, and Ranong and Kawthaung.

    The stations would swap information and conduct joint investigations and operations to stop drug precursors crossing the border.

    The next meeting will be organised in Burma's Taunggyi town in February 2002.

    Prime Minister's Office Minister Gen Thammarak Issarangkura na Ayuthaya said the United Nations would provide Thailand, Burma and Laos with technical assistance.

    ``Burma said drug precursors were not from within the country but somewhere else though there were troubled areas occupied by minority people who would be encouraged to stop planting opium or making drugs,'' he said.

    Burma would be urged to suppress drug production while Thailand, China and Laos focussed on stopping drug precursors, at a meeting of the four countries in Beijing on Aug 26-27.