Daily News-August 22 - 2001- Wednesday

  • ILO team to inspect Burma on forced labour
  • Bad News for Asylum Seekers
  • No Clues in Exilesí Disappearance
  • Indonesian Defence College study team arrives in Rangoon
  • Unocal offers Burma gas deal
  • HIV-positive Burmese refugee awaits fate
  • Junta troops killed in attack on rebels

  • ILO team to inspect Burma on forced labour

    GENEVA, Aug. 21- A team of experts will visit Burma next month to check on steps taken by the military government to ban the use of forced labour, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) said on Tuesday.

    The mission is the U.N. agency's latest bid to wipe out Burma's alleged use of people in slave-like working conditions on agricultural and construction projects.

    It comes after the ILO last November formally urged its 174 member states to review their relations with Burma -- as close as the Geneva-based body can get to appealing for sanctions.Burma, which agreed to receive the mission in June, says it banned forced labour in October 2000, but allegations of abuse have persisted.

    ''The mandate of the team is to make an objective assessment of the practical implementation and actual impact of various legislative, executive and administrative measures announced by the government in response to previous ILO action, with a view to determining whether these measures have been effective in eliminating the practice of forced labour,'' the ILO said in a statement.

    The team of four, whose trip is expected to last three weeks, will be led by Ninian Stephen, a former governor-general of Australia.

    An ILO inquiry in 1998 found forced labour was ''widespread and systematic'' in Burma.The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions has said more than a million Burmese people are subjected to forced labour on construction sites for roads, railways, military installations and tourism.

    The Geneva-based ILO noted that in carrying out its mandate, the team will have full discretion to establish contacts and visits as it considers appropriate across the country.

    The Burmese government agreed to the visit in June and said team members would be free to travel and arrange meetings unless there were valid security considerations.

    Burma has been under ILO scrutiny since 1998, when an inquiry commission said it had evidence of the systematic and general use of forced labour, especially involving ethnic minorities.
    Bad News for Asylum Seekers

    By Maung Maung Oo
    source : The Irrawaddy

    August 21, 2001--The hopes of roughly 5,000 refugee claimants from Burma appear to have been crushed by a recent statement from the Secretary General of the National Security Council (NSC), Thailand's most influential foreign-policy body.

    The NSC says the group, which is currently staying at the Mae La refugee camp, located 500 km northwest of Bangkok on the Thai-Burma border, are illegal migrants seeking better lives, not refugees.

    Khajadpai Buruspatana, Secretary General of the NSC, has accused the United Nationsí High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) of delaying the deportation of the group, which consists mainly of ethnic-Karen, according to an article in the Bangkok-based Nation newspaper.

    "Despite the fact that the war (in Burma) is over, they (UNHCR) want to make them stay here on grounds that these people may be affected by the ramifications of the war," the Secretary General was quoted as saying. "Our policy is to close refugee camps and send them back home. They will be asked where they want to be sent back to. If they canít say where, we will send them back where we deem safe," he added.

    The Thai government suspended plans to deport the group last Sunday after the UNHCR urged the government to rethink the move. The UNHCR and Burma watchers based in Thailand say the current political situation in Burma remains highly volatile, and insist that it is still too dangerous to begin repatriating refugees.

    Fighting between Rangoon's military government and the Karen National Union (KNU) continues just over the border in eastern Burmaís Karen State.The Burmese Army, along with the pro-Rangoon Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), has been burning down Karen villages and forcibly relocating the villagers, according to sources along the border.

    Meanwhile, the NSC is looking to relocate refugees from the overcrowded Tham Hin camp, which sits 20 km from the Thai-Burma border. There are currently over 8,000 people living in the camp despite insufficient housing and inadequate access to water and food.

    "The health condition of people in the camp is getting worse," said one camp resident. "Every day I miss our homeland where we used to live freely."

    There are an estimated 136,000 refugees currently sheltering in camps along the Thai-Burma border.Rangoon says that most of the refugees living on Thai soil are relatives of KNU soldiers, and claims that the camps serve as bases for insurgent activities.
    No Clues in Exilesí Disappearance

    By Ko Thet
    source : The Irrawaddy

    August 21, 2001-A group of eight Burmese dissidents living in exile on the Thai-Burma border disappeared in mid-July, according to reliable sources in the border town of Mae Sot.

    The missing individuals, including a central committee member from the National League for Democracy-Liberated Area (NLD-LA) and a recognized political refugee, were all members of different Burmese pro-democracy groups based in Mae Sot.

    Nobody has seen any of the individuals since the middle of last month, according to a statement issued by the Burmese Studentsí Political Refugee Committee (BSPRC) on August 2, 2001.

    The statement identified Aung Myat Tun, a political refugee recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), and Sunny, a member of the NLD-LAís central committee, as two of the missing persons.

    A spokesman for the NLD-LA said that the group is currently investigating the situation and cannot comment on the matter, but added that they intend to release a statement soon.

    A number of exiled Burmese opposition groups have been based in Mae Sot since a crackdown on Burmaís pro-democracy uprising in 1988 sent many dissidents fleeing to the Thai-Burma border. The Burmese juntaís Military Intelligence Service (MIS) is also known to maintain a strong presence there. Over the years, the MIS has attempted to infiltrate opposition groups based on the border, in hopes of repeating its successful operations against the Karen National Union (KNU).

    The Burmese Army overtook the KNUís stronghold, Manerplaw, in 1995 after heavy penetration by MIS agents exposed internal rifts. It is also widely believed that many MIS agents participate in the smuggling of drugs into Thailand from Burma.

    Last July in Mae Sot twelve members of the Peopleís Liberation Front (PLF), another Burmese dissident group, mysteriously disappeared and never resurfaced. Some individuals from the PLF were thought to be involved with MIS agents, according to a source in Mae Sot.
    Indonesian Defence College study team arrives in Rangoon

    BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom; Aug 21, 2001
    Text of report by Burmese TV on 20 August

    A study group led by Vice-Adm Si Putu Ardana of National Defence College of Indonesia arrived in Yangon [Rangoon] this morning. The group was welcomed at the airport by officials of the Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Military Attache of Indonesian Embassy Col Amiruddin Lisman.

    The study group leader Vice-Adm Si Putu Ardana and members met Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs U Khin Maung Win at Wungyi Padethayaza Hall of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Present were the directors-general of departments under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the deputy directors-general and officials.

    Members of the study group visited the National Museum on Pyay Road and they were conducted round by officials of the Department of Cultural Institute. Vice-Adm Si Putu Ardana signed in the visitors' book.
    Unocal offers Burma gas deal

    source : The Nation
    Watcharapong Thongrung

    Unocal has offered to cut the government's take-or-pay burden on its Burmese gas contract in exchange for retaining the existing price system for domestic gas.

    Industry Minister Suriya Jungrungreangkit said yesterday Unocal had proposed an alternative to reducing domestic gas prices, which the government has been pushing for. The two sides have been involved in intense negotiations about gas prices for some time.

    "PTT said Unocal executive [Randolph Howard, Unocal Thailand's president] has returned from the US and come up with an alternative proposal," the minister said.Suriya said the PTT's stance for the time being would remain for Unocal to adjust its domestic-gas price formula, but the government would consider the alternative offer.

    "We will weigh up and consider its alternative offer as compared with our original suggestion [that] Unocal renegotiate domestic gas contracts. Because the goal is the same - we want to cut the country's gas costs to reduce the impact from an expected hike in electricity prices," Suriya said.

    If gas prices remain unchanged the price of electricity will increase by Bt0.54 per kilowatt-hour in October.That would amount to a Bt1.15 billion increase in the national electricity bill every four months. But a recent deal to cut the price of gas sourced from the Bongkot field - operated by PTT Exploration and Production - has led to a saving of Bt535 million every four months.

    However, Unocal said the government would have to help it in its negotiations with the Burmese government to reduce the take-or-pay burden for the Yadana field, operated by Unocal in Burma.

    Unocal's latest stance comes after more than two months of intense negotiations with the PTT. The offer was made after an August 14 deadline set by the Industry Minister for the company to reveal its hand.

    According to the Yadana gas contract's take-or-pay condition, PTT is obliged to pay for its share of gas from the field whether or not it makes use of it. And while it can allow the unused portion to accumulate in what is effectively a gas "bank", it must pay for it in advance.

    Gas supply from the Burmese fields has already come on-line and the interest payments alone on the PTT's borrowings to make its advance payments are said to have cost Bt3.8 billion. That cost has subsequently been stacked on the price consumers pay for electricity.Gas-fuelled plants produce more than 70 per cent of Thailand's electricity and Unocal supplies about 30 per cent of that gas.
    HIV-positive Burmese refugee awaits fate

    The Honolulu Advertiser
    By Dan Nakaso
    Advertiser Staff Writer

    A Queen's Medical Center psychiatrist was caught in Thailand last month trying to smuggle an HIV-positive Burmese refugee into Honolulu and is now trying to go through formal U.S.channels.

    Through his volunteer work, Dr. Timothy Buroker has found hundreds of ailing people and victims of landmines who are missing limbs from the fighting along the Thailand/Burma border. But there was something even more desperate about the plight of Buroker's 28-year-old interpreter and assistant, a member of the persecuted Shan tribe of Burma.

    Sai Tit Yi, or "Tiki," could not survive in the squalor of the refugee camps because of his low T-cell count, Buroker said. Tiki is also vulnerable to retribution from the Burmese military because he has videotaped atrocities along the border, Buroker said.

    "We work in the refugee camps, and I know what they're like," Buroker said. "With his condition, he'd be dead. And Tiki has been seen with me by the Burmese spies along the border."

    So on July 30, Buroker and Tiki boarded a Northwest Airlines flight that would take them from Bangkok to Japan to Honolulu. Tiki flashed the blue folder of one of Buroker's old passports to get through the airport. But once on board, Northwest flight attendants wanted a closer look.

    Thai authorities removed Buroker and Tiki and "a man from the U.S. embassy came," Buroker said. "He was very sympathetic but he thought it was quite likely we would both do jail time in Bangkok."

    Thai authorities released Buroker but placed Tiki in an outdoor detention area, where he was sexually assaulted twice during the night, Buroker said.

    The next day, Buroker retained a Thai attorney, who got Tiki released on bond. The United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees in Bangkok has since classified Tiki as a refugee, eligible for possible entry into the United States.Embassy, immigration and UN officials in Bangkok said they could not talk about specific cases. In general, they said, the process could take weeks or months. HIV status would not be a factor.

    "We get hundreds, if not thousands, of Burmese who are deemed to be refugees," said Indrika Ratwatte, senor regional liaison officer with the United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees in Bangkok. "In the border camps alone, we have some 110,000 Burmese refugees. Countries with the more progressive and open admission policies allow for individuals with whatever physiological conditions."

    Tiki remains in Bangkok, where he is staying with his English computer teacher. As Buroker tries to apply pressure on immigration and embassy officials, Tiki wonders about a life in Hawai'i, where he hopes to live with Buroker, study English and get medical help."I cannot stay in Thailand," he said. "I have many, many problems. I am sick is big problem. I need to go to Hawai'i."
    Junta troops killed in attack on rebels

    Source : Bangkok Post

    Three Burmese soldiers were killed when junta forces attacked a camp occupied by democratic opposition forces, opposite Tak province.

    The recent afternoon raid on the camp of the Karen National Union, the All Burma Students' Democratic Front and the Parliamentary Democracy Party was repelled after an hour-long battle, sources said. Burmese troops employed 81mm mortars during the assault with about 10 shells landing on Thai territory and destroying a village.

    The attack was launched to protect an amphetamine factory located about a mile from the camp, the sources said.