Daily News-August 26 - 2001- Sunday

  • Mediator Role Urged for Razali
  • Myanmar's intelligence chief to visit Thailand
  • Where Tyrants Rule the Internet
  • Illegals scamper for alien permits
  • UN envoy to make new tilt at pushing ahead historic dialogue

  • Mediator Role Urged for Razali

    By Maung Maung Oo
    source : The Irrawaddy

    August 25, 2001óBurmese dissident groups based in Thailand have called on the United Nationsí special envoy to Burma to step up his role in the countryís ongoing political dialogue during a planned visit to Rangoon early next week.

    In an open letter dated August 24, three exiled opposition groups urged Razali Ismail, the UNís special envoy to Burma, to act as "a mediator rather than a facilitator" in the current talks between the countryís ruling junta and National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

    The letter was jointly signed by the All Burma Studentsí Democratic Front (ABSDF), the Democratic Party for a New Society (DPNS), and the Network for Democracy and Development (NDD).

    Razali, who has visited Rangoon several times since he broke the news of the dialogue in January, is due to return to the Burmese capital on August 27. Following his last trip in June, Razali offered reassurances that the dialogue appears to be on track.He said he predicted that Burma would have a civilian government within four years.

    But after nearly a year without any visible evidence of progress, apart from the release of some 160 political prisoners, many of whom had actually completed their sentences, there are growing concerns that Razaliís prognosis may be overly optimistic.

    Razali, a Malaysian diplomat who assumed his current position late last year, has taken a less critical stance towards the Burmese regime than his predecessor, Alvaro de Soto. It is now in doubt, however, whether his approach will be any more effective in ending Burmaís political deadlock.

    Fearing that the current round of talks may turn out to be mere window-dressing for the international community, dissidents say they hope Razali will take a more hands-on role during his upcoming visit.

    "We want the UN to take more involvement in the talks," said ABSDF spokesperson Win Naing Oo.
    Myanmar's intelligence chief to visit Thailand

    BANGKOK, Aug 25 (AFP) - Myanmar's powerful intelligence chief,Lieutenant-General Khin Nyunt, is to visit Thailand from September 3-5 as a guest of Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, officials said Saturday.

    Khin Nyunt will meet Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra during the trip, which is seen as cementing a return to cordial relations after a bitter six-month-long row between the two neighbours.

    "It's likely that discussions will cover the development of military ties between Thailand and Myanmar and border trade," said foreign ministry spokesman Norachit Singhaseni.

    The historically tense relationship with Myanmar erupted into open hostility in February when the two national armies staged a half-day clash sparked by skirmishes between rival ethnic militias on the border.The fighting prompted Thailand to shut down the important Mae Sai-Tachilek border crossing and halt supplies destined for use by the Myanmar military,including medicine, rice and fuel.

    Months of angry exchanges followed, prompting a flurry of official protests as both sides traded accusations over who was to blame for the rampant border drugs trade reputedly controlled by the ethnic armies.

    Thaksin's inaugural visit to Myanmar in June largely resolved the row and the Mae Sai-Tachilek border crossing was reopened soon after.Chavalit, who has close ties with the junta, declared in July after a visit to Yangon that relations had been normalised and that both sides had resolved to patch up relations between their militaries.

    On September 4 Khin Nyunt will be granted an audience with Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej at his seaside palace in Hua Hin, south of Bangkok. The junta number-three will also meet Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai during the three-day trip.
    Where Tyrants Rule the Internet

    Daily Policy Digest - International Issues
    Thursday, August 23, 2001

    High hopes that the Internet and the World Wide Web would undermine the world's most totalitarian regimes were overly optimistic, according to a new report from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

    Focusing on China and Cuba, Carnegie researchers Shanthi Kalathil and Taylor Boas found that one-party states have become increasingly sophisticated in controlling political expression on the Internet and limiting access to it for hostile domestic critics.

    Chinese chat-room administrators, for example, routinely employ monitors known as "Big Mamas" to screen and purge politically sensitive material.While Fidel Castro's regime has strictly limited who can own a computer and who can open an Internet account, China's rulers have tried to tap into the commercial potential of the Web, while strictly patrolling the flow of information.

    Officials at Amnesty International report that their Web site is routinely blocked in China.The Cuban communist regime has used its decades of controlling traditional mass media outlets to confront cyberdissidents.

    The Carnegie researchers say they are not claiming that the successful regimes of today will maintain their control in the long run -- only that at present effective control of the Internet is much more prevalent than conventional wisdom suggests.

    The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are also developing censorship programs for Internet use. And the military junta in Burma is following the Cuban model in sharply limiting who can even own a computer and maintain an Internet account.
    Illegals scamper for alien permits


    Swarms of illegal Burmese immigrants have already flooded border areas ahead of the Sept 1-20 registration of alien workers. Many hoped they could find a job with their new permits. Others were more than willing to do just about anything, regardless of whether it was legal, that would keep them away from abject misery at home.

    Severe unskilled labour shortages had forced the farm sector and certain industries into using illegal immigrants, mostly from Burma, Laos and Cambodia.

    To prevent labour abuse, crime, the spread of communicable diseases and proliferation of alien communities, the government limited the number of alien workers, types of employment and the provinces in which they could stay.Employers also had to register alien employees at 4,500 baht per head, or face legal punishment.

    Tak immigration police chief Parinya Pinpak said the number of Burmese with border passes entering through the Mae Sot checkpoint had increased from the normal rate of 12,000 a month to 14,266 in May, 15,325 in June and 16,504 in July. The number of Burmese entering Thailand illegally could not be checked, Pol Lt-Col Parinya said.

    Combined military-police-civilian task forces were keeping a close vigil at the border.Over 92,097 illegal Burmese aliens were arrested and deported during January and July, he said.

    Despite tightening security, at least 100,000 Burmese managed to penetrate into inner Tak where they work in certain factories. Many were working on farms or highland vegetable plantations in five districts Tha Song Yang, Mae Ramat, Mae Sot, Pob Phra and Umphang.

    Deputy Tak police commander Prasart Jimakorn said the aliens who could escape police raids would cross the border back into Burma or hide with relatives or mingle with refugees at different border camps.When the dust settled, they emerged from hiding.Some avoided highway police checkpoints and hired hilltribe people to lead them through the Taksin national park in Tak to Kamphaeng Phet. Some used traffickers to take them to Bangkok and nearby provinces.

    From January until Aug 15, 76 Thai human traffickers and 303 Burmese were arrested on the Mae Sot-Tak highway, Pol Col Prasart said. Tak businesses were ready to pay for registration.

    Amnart Panthaharn, vice-chairman of the Tak Industrial Council, said local industries always wanted to do the right thing. Avoiding registration did not guarantee businesses would survive, he said, citing as an example employers who had to go out of business after having been caught defying the rules, fined and had problems regaining public respect.

    Tak needed 80,000 Burmese workers _ 45,000 for the agricultural sector, 22,000 for industrial factories and 13,000 for the service sector.

    In Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son, the number of registered alien workers, however, was low. The Chiang Mai Labour Employment Office reported that 4,974 aliens, most of them Burmese, had registered. However, a source said about 20,000-30,000 were believed to have been working without work permits in fruit orchards in several districts. Mae Hong Son recorded a low registration of 1,236. An unofficial estimate of 30,000-50,000 illegal aliens were in garlic and other crop plantations.

    The source said the number of aliens registering for work permits was low because employers did not want to pay for registration fees as well as health check-ups. Vinij Niyomkul, Chiang Rai employment chief officer, said he heard the government would lift the limit on aliens working in rice mills, construction, fruit orchards and vegetable plantations while health check-ups also would not be required.

    He said about 20 employers were seeking renewal of the permits. They would have to pay 3,250 baht first and six months later another 1,250 baht.Official records put the number of illegal alien workers at 4,000-6,000. A local businessman said measures to deal with alien workers were a failure because illegal entry could not be stopped.

    Authorities were afraid to take action against senior officials and local politicians hiring a large number of illegal immigrants to work in their crop plantations, he said. And since jobs, particularly on the farms, were ``seasonal'' about six months a year the aliens, therefore, would hardly stay with only one employer. The employer would lose his 10,000-baht deposit to the state if an alien employee fled.

    Many alien women were prostitutes so it was impossible that they had registered, the businessman said.`Most entrepreneurs are paying officials of certain units 500-1,000 baht a month to turn a blind eye on whatever was going on in their businesses,'' he said.

    Trafficking rings in Ranong are using boats instead of cars to send illegal Burmese to Thai employers in Phuket and Phangnga.Authorities had closely checked vans, pick-up trucks and six-wheel trucks on Phetkasem road, the main artery to the South, to look for illegal aliens. A source said traffickers had turned to delivering aliens in fishing vessels, each of which could carry around 50 Burmese. Each alien was charged 5,000 baht. ``That's a good business. Traffickers collect only 3,000 baht taking them by car,'' he said.

    Arresting them was difficult because there were Thai authorities, mainly non-commissioned policemen, involved. The rings also used modern telecommunications equipment which enabled them to track down the movement of Thai officials.

    Ranong immigration police chief Sukrit Khoruamkid said local security agencies have continued arresting and deporting illegal Burmese immigrants. From January to August this year, 23,821 had been sent back to Burma.Pol Lt-Col Sukrit said these deported Burmese, however, always came back to Ranong as the Burmese government did not consider them Burmese citizens once they have fled the country.

    Kanchanaburi Border Patrol Police commander Puwadon Wutthakanok said joint campaigns against illegal Burmese aliens by the police and military had succeeded in reducing their number.He admitted, however, that about 1,000 now in Burma opposite Sangkhla Buri district were trying to sneak back into Thailand.He also complained that a lack of co-operation from certain units had helped keep some major trafficking rackets alive.

    In April, a major trafficker was arrested. Checks revealed he had smuggled in more than 7,000 Burmese since January. The charge was 3,000 baht per head, meaning he had already made more than 21 million baht.``We caught him at night. The next morning he was granted bail,'' Pol Col Puwadon said.
    UN envoy to make new tilt at pushing ahead historic dialogue

    BANGKOK, Aug 26 (AFP)

    UN envoy Razali Ismail arrives in Burma Monday to launch a new attempt at accelerating historic talks between the junta and democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi which began 10 months ago.

    The four-day mission is the fifth by the Malaysian diplomat since UN Secretary General Kofi Annan appointed him in April 2000 with a brief to help end a decade of political deadlock in the military-run nation.

    On each occasion he has met with top members of the junta and been allowed to visit Aung San Suu Kyi at her lakeside residence, where she has been held under loose house arrest restrictions since September.

    "Razali has the trust of both sides. All his visits have been fruitful," a spokesman for the junta told AFP on a recent visit to Rangoon.

    Diplomats agree that Razali plays a vital role in efforts to bridge the gap between the generals and the democratic opposition, which has never been allowed to take power despite winning a landslide election victory in 1990.

    "As long as Razali is engaged, his visits have always had an impact, she will continue to put her trust in him," said one Western ambassador, referring to the charismatic National League for Democracy (NLD) leader.

    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 and the drafting of a new constitution which would herald the return of civilian government after 40 years of military rule.

    Observers have been heartened by the prisoner releases, but note that only about 60 are from a "priority list" of 200 presented to the junta by Razali when he last visited in June.

    "Aung San Suu Kyi is frustrated at the pace (of the releases). She thinks they could move a lot faster," said one diplomat.

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

    This week Razali is scheduled to meet again with Burma's leader Senior General Than Shwe as well as its influential chief of military intelligence Lieutenant-General Than Shwe.

    He is expected to see Aung San Suu Kyi twice, as he has on past visits where he has also held talks with leaders of the religious, ethnic and business communities who also have a stake in moves for reform.

    Foreign missions in Rangoon remain divided over how to deal with the notoriously intransigent junta, but agree that the "Razali initiative" is Burma's best chance to emerge from the damaging political impasse.

    "His role is to ensure that progress is made, without interfering in the substance of the discussion," said a well-informed source.

    "But his patience will be tested if the process does not move ahead," he said.

    For its part, the junta remains fearful of unleashing a force it cannot control and "those who are in favour of the dialogue are confronting strong opposition from others who are not."

    "But when the one-year mark arrives, something will have to happen," the source said.