Daily News-August 19 - 2001- Sunday

  • DVB reports deserters form anti-junta "patriotic army"
  • Japan-donated high school building opens in Myanmar
  • Thai Film Stirs Concerns About Burma Relations
  • B-B-who?
  • Indian companies still to have a foot in Burma
  • Thai security chief slams UN over illegals
  • U Tun Wai; Taught Economics for IMF
  • Talks only hope for Burma to end pariah status
  • Burma's economy remains hopelessly mired in crisis

  • DVB reports deserters form anti-junta "patriotic army"

    BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom; Aug 17, 2001
    Text of report by Burmese opposition radio on 16 August

    DVB [Democratic Voice of Burma] has learned that army deserters from the SPDC [State Peace and Development Council] Defence Services have formed a new, armed group at the Burma-Thai border on 13 August.

    A spokesperson said the group is called the Patriotic Burmese Army [PBA] and it will take up arms to fight the SPDC military government. DVB correspondent Ma Sandar filed this report from a location near the Burma-Thai border.

    [Ma Sandar] Ko Kyaw Kyaw Oo, the person in charge, explained the formation and objectives of this army.

    [Kyaw Kyaw Oo] The raison d'etre is that armed forces personnel, who changed sides because they were unable to endure SPDC's suppression and who wanted to see the demise of military dictatorship, got together and formed the PBA. Although the Burmese armed forces' duty is to defend the country they have taken over the responsibility of the State, which is not their concern, and have committed many atrocities such as using civilians as porters for their military operations, extortion, confiscation of farmlands,false imprisonment, and rape. These atrocities could not be accepted and tolerated. They also forcibly recruit 13, 14-year-olds to join the army and fight for them in order to sustain their grip on power. Thus, the nationalist army formed by Gen Aung San with good intentions and noble traditions was not embraced but despised by the people. Furthermore, the reputation of the armed forces is also waning. That is why we formed the PBA.

    [Ma Sandar] The PBA will use political and military means to try and eliminate the Burmese military dictatorship and also call upon the comrades in the SPDC armed forces who are subjected to oppression to join hands and fight for Burma's democracy. [end recording]

    That was Ma Sandar's report on the formation of a new anti-Burmese junta armed group. According to latest reports, the PBA was formed with army deserters from Karenni region. They also plan to organize other regions as well. The spokesperson said since the PBA is in an embryonic stage they are unable to disclose their leader and strength of the army.
    Japan-donated high school building opens in Myanmar

    YANGON, Aug. 18, Kyodo - A high school building built with a nearly $95,000 Japanese government grant was inaugurated in Kyaunggone, 130 kilometers northwest of Yangon, in the Ayeyarwaddy delta Saturday.

    The two-story concrete building was transferred to the Education Department at a ceremony attended by Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt, number three in Myanmar's ruling junta, other ministers and the Japanese ambassador to Myanmar.

    ''I want to thank the Japanese government for extending grassroots assistance for development projects in Myanmar despite sanctions by western countries and the (European Union),'' the general said.

    Japanese Ambassador Shigeru Tsumori said the school building was ''a symbol of friendship and cooperation by the people of Japan toward the people of Myanmar.''

    The cost of the new school building was $115,000, of which about $95,000 was donated by the Japanese government and $20,000 by Kyodo News correspondent Sein Win.
    Thai Film Stirs Concerns About Burma Relations

    By Maung Maung Oo
    The Irrawaddy

    August 18, 2001-Suriyothai, the most expensive movie in Thai film history, was released on Friday in theaters throughout Thailand. The movie, which tells the story of a queen who died defending the ancient Thai capital of Ayutthaya against an invading Burmese army, has raised concerns about its possible impact on Thai-Burma relations.

    Filmed over a period of five years, at a cost of nearly US $10 million, the movie was released to coincide with the Queen of Thailand's 69th birthday. It is widely believed that the Queen was behind the idea of making the film.

    Directed by Chatrichalerm Yukol, a renowned director who is also a member of the Thai Royal Family, Suriyothai tells the story of an eponymous consort of King Maha Chakkraphat (1548-1569) who sacrificed her life in a battle with Burmese troops.

    There are plans to sell the movie to Hollywood film distributors for US$ 20 million. A number of foreigndistributors, including Warner Brothers, New Line Cinema and Miramax, are reportedly interested in obtaining the rights. Film distributors in some Asian countries have also shown an interest in the movie.

    According to the Bangkok-based Nation newspaper, advanced ticket sales have already reached the 100,000 mark. Long queues have been appearing at theatres screening the film, and Suriyothai t-shirts, posters and phone cards sold at booths near ticket counters have been doing a brisk business. Tickets for the debut showing of Suriyothai are priced 20 percent higher than those for other films.

    While the movie has excited Thai audiences, it has also attracted attention from academics and other experts, who question its historical accuracy. The story is, in fact, based on just a few lines that appear in a Thai chronicle of the Ayutthaya era.

    An even more sensitive issue is how the film portrays Burmese, who came off looking very badly in another Thai film released earlier this year. Bangrajan, about a group of Thai villagers who fought to the death against an invading Burmese army, was widely criticized for playing on highly negative stereotypes of Burma.

    Chatrichalerm said he tried to be sensitive to such concerns. "I did show this film to Burmese artists and film makers, and they did enjoy it," the director said in a pre-release interview on CNN television.In an earlier interview, he hinted that he took some liberties in his treatment of his subject. "It is an historical film, but it's my interpretation of history. I didn't make this movie to make people believe it. My aim was to make people more aware of Thai history," the director said. Concerning the films portrayal of Burmese, he added: "We do not show them as baddies, but as warriors and a great nation."

    Ko Myo, a Burmese man in his 20s, rushed to buy tickets to the three-hour-long movie. "It was quite fair," he said.

    It is unclear, however, how well the movie will be received by Burma's ruling generals, who went on record as being displeased by Bangrajan's "biased" depiction of history. Shortly after the movie's release, a serious border skirmish broke out between Thai and Burmese troops, and relations spiraled to their lowest level in years.

    Recently, the Burmese junta announced plans to shoot a historical movie of its own. The film will be about Bayint Naung Kyaw Htin Nawyahta, a famous Burmese warrior, and is expected to cost 150-200 million kyat (US $ 220,000-294,000) to make. It will be the most expensive movie ever made in Burmese film history.

    source : The Nation

    Prince Chatrichalerm Yukol has long been an outstanding director, having directed the masterpieces U-Ga Fa Luang (Stormy Sky), Thongphun Kokpho, and Khon Liang Chang (Elephant Caretaker).Nevertheless, his fame and reputation have grown yet more for his devotion to Suriyothai, which required five years of research, and the highest budget ever for a Thai film in order to achieve the precisely styled grandeur he had envisioned.

    Reporters from near and far have been clamouring for quotes from him about his latest and most phenomenal work, based on a noble queen from the Ayutthaya era.

    One day, he received a call from a guy who said he represented the BBC.

    During the telephone interview, the man asked him basic questions about the focus of the film and its plot. The director patiently explained about the warring states of Siam and Burma, and the main characters involved.

    (As there has been no major war between the two nations for more than 200 years, no sense in overemphasising anything that could revive bad memories that could endanger the slowly, slowly blooming flower of Thai-Burmese relations.)

    After a few minutes of conversation, Than Mui, perhaps feeling a bit suspicious, asked the guy if the BBC that he worked for in fact was the British Broadcasting Corporation. And the answer he received amused him so much that he could recall nearly everything going on during the conversation when he told reporters the story last week.

    The interviewer replied: "No, of course not. BBC stands for the Burmese Broadcasting Corporation."

    Has anyone heard of this BBC? Internet searches aplenty for the Burmese Broadcasting Corporation turns up mostly hits for that rather more established London-based BBC. And it obviously has no official connections with Thailand's western neighbour, which its military rulers call Myanmar. Oh well,we'll hope this rogue BBC will do their bit to help inform its audience (whoever they are) about a film that everyone should see if they get the chance.
    Indian companies still to have a foot in Burma

    August 18, 2001
    Mizzima News Group (www.mizzima.com)

    Despite the active efforts of some business groups in India, Indian big business is still to go to Burma because they are yet to be confident that their business would not be "nationalized" in future, an experience that many of their country fellowmen faced in the 1960s.

    For some years now, a Mumbai-based Indo-Myanmar Chamber of Commerce & Industries has been actively lobbying both governments for the promoting of bilateral business and Indian investments in Burma. Recently, an Indian think thank, the Bengal Initiative, comprising of industrialists, businessmen, academicians and social workers visited the military-rule Burma on a track II diplomacy but with an aim for the increase of business relationship between the two neighboring countries. However, the results are yet to come out.

    According to an Indian business study, Burma offers opportunity for a wide range of Indian products such as iron and steel products, drug & pharmaceuticals, agro-chemicals, cotton garments, construction materials, auto components, software, machinery and spare parts. But, until now, Indian goods have not placed themselves between cheap and ample Chinese goods and neat and small Japanese and Singapore goods in the Burmese markets.

    A car tyre businessman from Mandalay said that he has been trying to get the representative job particularly from Indian companies but he is getting no where as the Indian business persons are not certain about the political uncertainties in Burma.

    "Chinese tyres are cheaper than the Indian tyres in Burma. But, quality of Indian tyres is much higher than the Chinese ones. It is four times better than the Chinese tyres in quality", he said. "But, we cannot get Indian tyres easily in Burma while we get Chinese tyres everywhere.
    Thai security chief slams UN over illegals

    source : The Nation
    Piyanart Srivalo

    National Security Council secretary-general Khajadpai Buruspatana has lambasted the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for attempting to delay Thailand's deportation of non-refugees back to Burma, saying the agency wanted to prolong the refugee situation in Thailand.

    In an interview with The Nation on Friday, Khajadpai said he saw no point in trying to negotiate the matter with the agency since its perception on the status of these people differed from that of the National Security Council (NSC).

    "The UNHCR wants these people to be refugees so that it can take care of them. Despite the fact that the war [in Burma] is over, they want to make them stay here on grounds that these people may be affected by the ramifications of the war," the NSC chief said.

    "If we toe the agency's line, thousands of Shan people may flood into Thailand," Khajadpai said, referring to the Burmese ethnic group still resisting Rangoon's rule in northeastern Burma.

    An UNHCR official in Bangkok had reportedly said earlier that Thai authorities were about to deport some 4,800 ethnicBurmese, mostly Karen, from Mae La camp in the western province of Tak regardless of the risks they might face upon their return to their homeland.

    The diminished fighting between Burmese troops and rebels belonging to the Karen National Union raised hopes for Thailand to close all its western camps, which so far have sheltered more than 10 thousand Burmese refugees.

    Thailand needs to take a proactive approach on the refugee situation otherwise the government will have to shoulder this burden indefinitely, Khajadpai said.

    "Our policy is to close refugee camps and send them back home," he said, adding that the process needed to be discussed among stakeholders including responsible agencies in Thailand and the Burmese government.

    There are about 5,000 non-refugees living in sprawling camps bordering Burma waiting to be deported, he said. They have been verified as non-refugees who came to seek jobs or get aid inside the refugee camps. Thai agencies concluded at a recent meeting that these people would be sent back as soon as possible, taking into account humanitarian principles, Khajadpai said

    "They will be asked where they want to be sent back to. If they can't say where, we will send them back where we deem safe," he said.
    U Tun Wai; Taught Economics for IMF

    The Washington Post
    Saturday, August 18, 2001; Page B07

    U Tun Wai, 79, an economist who worked for the International Monetary Fund in Washington for 32 years before retiring in 1987, died Aug. 15 at the Holy Cross Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Burtonsville after a series of strokes. He lived in Bethesda.

    Dr. Wai came to Washington and joined the IMF in 1955. He retired as deputy director of the IMF Institute, the fund's teaching arm. Over the years, he taught generations of economists from his native Myanmar and traveled to China in 1980 to teach Keynesian economics.

    He taught visiting officials at the IMF and economics classes at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Service in the 1970s and 1980s. He was a visiting fellow at Yale University in 1982. He was the author of six books and more than 40 technical papers.

    Dr. Wai's father was finance minister to the governor of Burma. He attended Rangoon University and graduated from the University of Bombay in India. During World War II, he came to this country and instructed Army and Office of Strategic Services personnel in the Burmese language. He also received master's and doctoral economics degrees from Yale University.

    After the war, he became chairman of Rangoon University's economics department. He then worked in Bangkok for the U.N. Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East from 1949 until coming to Washington and joining the IMF in 1955.

    Dr. Wai was past president of the Burma American Buddhist Association of Washington and past vice president of the Washington Buddhist Vihara and had served on the boards of both groups.

    Survivors include his wife, Daw Hlasan Wai of Bethesda; three sons, Dr. Tum Aung Wai of Germantown, Kyaw Wai of Vienna and Tun Maung Wai of Bethesda;and a brother, Tha Gyaw Wai of Vienna.
    Talks only hope for Burma to end pariah status

    Rangoon, Aug 19 (AFP)

    Talks between Burma's junta and democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi are moving painfully slowly but remain the pariah nation's only chance of emerging from a political impasse that has lasted a decade.

    Informed sources in Rangoon say that since they began meeting last October, the two camps have not progressed past the first stage of the process which is aimed at creating a "climate of confidence and mutual respect".

    The new atmosphere has seen the release of around 170 political prisoners in small groups over the past few months.

    But eventually the aim is to establish a full-blown "national reconciliation" process which, through the drafting of a new constitution and democratic elections, would herald the return of civilian government after 40 years of military rule.

    The junta allowed free elections in 1990, which Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won convincingly, but the military regime has always refused to recognise the result.

    Observers have been heartened by the prisoner releases, but note that only about 60 are from the "priority list" of 200 presented to the generals by United Nations special envoy to Myanmar, Razali Ismail, when he last visited in June.

    The releases -- a major priority for Aung San Suu Kyi who herself remains under loose house arrest restrictions -- are going too slowly and have made only modest inroads into the 1,800 strong dissident population in jail.

    "The military is going much too slowly. The passing of time is not an advantage for anyone. They should move more quickly," said a source close to the talks.

    "Aung San Suu Kyi is frustrated at the pace (of the releases). She thinks they could move a lot faster," said a western diplomat who nevertheless said the Nobel peace laureate is "still willing to pursue the dialogue".

    The international community meanwhile is waiting for some proof of the generals' sincerity, like a mass release of prisoners or the lifting of restrictions on Aung San Suu Kyi and her two top aides who are also in detention.

    But the moment of truth -- when the "pseudo dialogue" is transformed into a real political process -- is approaching just at the start of a series of important diplomatic events which are expected to have a bearing on the talks.

    Burma's generals, long reviled on the world stage for their appalling human rights record and refusal to brook democratic reforms, have never had such a busy schedule as over the next few weeks.

    Razali, the Malaysian diplomat who spearheaded the talks, is expected in Rangoon at the end of the month, and a team from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) will fly in to assess the extent of forced labour.

    A European Union mission will make a visit in the autumn, and the UN's special rapporteur on human rights, the Brazilian Sergio Pinheiro, will make his second trip to Rangoon.

    Just as significant are plans for the junta's number-one, Senior General Than Shwe, to visit his staunch ally Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, and attend the next UN General Assembly in September.

    The military regime has implicitly linked hints of progress in the talks with moves to lift the heavy sanctions placed on Myanmar.It is unlikely that the European Union or the United States will lift their sanctions any time in the near future, but the international community has indicated it is willing to make a gesture if the generals begin moving towards democracy.

    In what appeared to be an implicit gesture of encouragement, the heads of the UN agencies in Rangoon recently signed a joint letter urging more international aid to cope with Burma's "humanitarian crisis".

    Despite the considerable hurdles, no one in Rangoon expects either side to walk away from the dialogue. Aung San Suu Kyi has put her reputation on the line by sitting down with her enemies, and the junta's pariah status would become permanent if it allowed the process to collapse.

    "They do not have any alternatives," diplomats in Yangon say in unison.
    Burma's economy remains hopelessly mired in crisis

    Rangoon, Aug 19 (AFP)

    Paralysed for years by the twin burdens of appalling management and international sanctions, Burma's economy remains hopelessly enmired in crisis even as the ruling junta embarks on landmark talks with the democratic opposition.

    Property developments that have sprung up in the capital Rangoon, as well as official claims of five percent annual economic growth, give a misleading impression of dynamism in the military-run nation.

    But conversations with ordinary Burmese citizens tell a very different tale of continual price rises, rationing and a daily struggle to gather the necessities of life.

    "There is mass national depression because of the economy," said a Western diplomat who accused the regime of "incomptence and lack of understanding of a free market economy."

    Despite being "ruled by generals who give commands," the economy would probably continue to stumble along, greased by the black market as well as the fortune in drug money funnelled in from ethnic warlords.

    "There isn't enough economy to collapse," the diplomat quipped.

    Apart from rice, which the government keeps in plentiful supply to avoid the prospect of hunger-fuelled dissent, the price of basic commodities has doubled or tripled this year alone, according to aid officials.

    "The price of cooking oil has tripled, as well as other items vital to people's lives," said one, on condition of anonymity.

    In the towns and cities, Burmese citizens endure annual inflation rates as high as 50 percent, the alarming depreciation of the kyat currency and constantly changing rules on rationing of items like gasoline.

    Tax-free markets set up a couple of years ago to ease the burden on low-wage earners, including the legion of government employees, offer fresh produce at discounted prices but in very limited amounts.

    As a result, an industry has sprung up among "professional queuers" who can be seen lining up well before dawn to purchase their quotas and sell them at a healthy profit to oil merchants or harried housewives.

    "In a single day I can get to queue up again at least four times and invest 350 kyats, from which I can get a profit of 500 kyats (one dollar) at the end of the day ... not bad for eight hours of queuing up," one jobless man said.

    Ironically, the government's plan to help consumers by distributing rationed staples like cooking oil through the markets has served only to line the pockets of big-time oil merchants.

    "I don't know if Than Shwe understands how bad it is, it is getting worse ... and people are becoming impoverished," a Western diplomat said of Myanmar's military leader.

    The junta meanwhile insists that the creaking economy is functioning adequately, ignoring the mechanisms like the thriving black market that have emerged to fill the gaps in the official economy.

    "Nobody is starving here, nobody is homeless," a senior spokesman for the government told AFP.

    Foreign observers posted in Rangoon remain pessimistic. "The ticking bomb now is energy now ... They can't supply the electricity necessary to run the industries," said one expert.

    "In the countryside, people will continue to live like they did in the feudal times."

    Foreign investment remains extremely weak, and what funds do make their way to Burma are centred on speculative sectors like property or tourism, rather than industry or manufacturing.

    Businesspeople lured by the prospect of rich natural resources lying untapped in Burma's energy fields, mines and forests, as well as cheap labour and a solid legal system inherited from the British colonial rulers, have become disenchanted after seeing the economy at close quarters.

    "Investors don't come, because investors want to make money. People have pulled out, like the Singaporeans out of oil, others out of textiles," one analyst said.

    International sanctions are also a major deterrent to foreign companies investing here, and the World Bank and International Monetary Fund will not consider giving assistance while the current regime is in change.

    But despite the sanctions, which have contributed to Burma remaining one of the world's poorest nations while its Southeast Asian neighbours prosper, the government insists it is not concerned.

    "We have built infrastructure, thousands of new roads, reservoirs and dams, even without the help of the international institutions," said Tin Winn, Minister at the Prime Minister's Office.

    Tourism may not be the saviour it was hoped to be, due to the 1997 regional financial crisis and calls from democracy activists for holiday-makers to stay away while Myanmar remains under military rule.

    The stunning new five-star hotels built in Rangoon, with their luxurious ballrooms, expansive swimming pools and plentiful staff, are nearly deserted with occupation rates running at a miserable eight percent.

    "It is the worst July they have ever had, even Laos is getting better figures," one diplomat exclaimed.

    In spite of the malaise, observers do not believe that the "desperation factor", which fuelled the bloody uprising of 1988 after three currency devaluations, exists today.

    Hopes for the future rest on the landmark dialogue between the junta and democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi which began last October.

    "The only way to make any reform in this country -- whether in the economy, social or health sectors -- is to start with political reform," says one observer.