Daily News- December 12 - 2001- Wednesday

  • Archbishop Desmond Tutu Calls for Meeting with Military Government of Burma
  • Shimon Peres signs the Declaration
  • Danish Prime Minister Mr. Anders Fogh Rasmussen Supports the Campaign
  • Aung San Suu Kyi urges caution
  • Myanmar is struggling to launch full dialogue: report
  • Burma announces ministerial appointments, duties for commanders
  • Rights advocate warns against closing down Maneeloy camp
  • No investigation against any other nuclear scientist
  • Not uplifting
  • Thailand says fearful Burma's rebel twins can stay
  • China's Jiang arrives in Burma as Chinese prisoners freed
  • Thais urge new U.N. approach to Burma
  • Three illegal Burmese immigrants nabbed in Singapore
  • Rights Groups Press Energy Companies To Leave Burma

  • Archbishop Desmond Tutu Calls for Meeting with Military Government of Burma

    Source : Burmapeacecampaign
    by Worldview Rights 2001-12-11

    OSLO: Archbishop Desmond Tutu called today for a meeting the military government of Burma as its "earliest convenience" following its public reaction to the Nobel Laureates call on Saturday for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and the return to democracy in Burma.

    Archbishop Tutu responded to a statement issued yesterday by the military junta in a letter released from Oslo. “It is heartening to learn of your belief that we share ‘the common objective of creating Myanmar to become a functioning democracy’ and that ‘we are in the process of ‘joining hands walking on the same path toward our common objective.’ wrote Archbishop Tutu, quoting from the government’s statement.

    “We sincerely believe that this path can be made more open by your willingness to agree to release Aung San Suu Kyi and all political detainees immediately."

    The South African Nobel Peace Laureate called for a meeting in Rangoon as soon as possible to address what the military government described as a misunderstanding with Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party, the National League for Democracy.

    "We are of the strong belief that misunderstanding can best be resolved through open and respectful dialogue", Archbishop Tutu wrote, "We are willing to support this process in any way. To do so, we would like to meet you at your earliest convenience.”

    Meanwhile, Israeli Foreign Minister and Nobel Peace Laureate Shimon Perez wrote to the Nobel Peace Laureate Campaign for Aung San Suu Kyi from his office in Jerusalem, asking to join the campaign and be counted as a supportive Nobel Peace Laureate: "As a Nobel Peace Laureate, I wish to sign the ‘Declaration of Support’ for her, thus endorsing the efforts on her behalf.”

    The call for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi was made at a rally in front of the Norwegian Parliament on Saturday that included twenty Nobel Peace Laureates and the Prime Minister of Norway. Organized by the Nobel Peace Laureate Campaign for Aung San Suu Kyi and the People of Burma and hosted by the Norwegian Nobel Committee, the Oslo event was linked, via satellite and the Internet, to hundreds of locations and thousands of supporters worldwide.

    Ceremonies in Washington DC and Bangkok Thailand were carried live to the Oslo stage.Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright spoke from Washington DC and the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee of Thailand, Senator Kraisak Choonhavan. Both reiterated their support for Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma.

    The Norwegian Nobel Committee hosted the ceremony as part of its centennial celebration of the Nobel Peace Prize. The Noble Peace Laureate Campaign for Aung San Suu Kyi and the People of Burma was created last year to help with the organization of events worldwide.

    The campaign is chaired by Nobel Peace Laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Oscar Arias Sanchez and Jose Ramos-Horta as well as former President Corazon Aquino of the Philippines and Dr. Madeline Albright.

    The international show of support for Aung San Suu Kyi comes during a stalemate between the ruling military regime--the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC)-- and the democratically elected leadership of Burma. The SPDC and Aung San Suu Kyi began informal discussions one year ago following the unprecedented ruling by the International Labor Organization that condemned Burma’s record of forced labor violations against the citizens of Burma and called on member states to re-evaluate their relationship to the regime. There has been little discernible progress in the talks. Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest in Rangoon. More than fifteen hundred political prisoners still remain in prison.

    Aung San Suu Kyi is the leader of the National League for Democracy that won over 80% of the seats in the Parliament in 1990, Burma’s last democratic elections. Burma’s military rulers have held her under house arrest for most of the last eleven years. She won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for her peaceful pursuit of human rights and democracy for Burma.

    According to Amnesty International, there are more than fifteen hundred political prisoners in Burma. They include twenty-one elected members of the Burmese Parliament who have been denied the right to take office by the ruling military.

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    Shimon Peres signs the Declaration

    Source : Burmapeacecampaign
    by Jonas Tjersland 2001-12-10

    Minister of Foreign Affairs Shimon Peres of Israel was not able to be in Oslo and sign the Declaration of Support, but says that he wants to support the appeal for democracy in Burma.

    Twenty Nobel winners led a worldwide appeal Saturday demanding that Burma‘s military rulers free the 1991 Nobel laureate from house arrest, release some1,500 other political detainees and establish democracy.

    "As a Nobel Peace Laureate, I wish to sign the "Declaration of Support" for her, thus endorsing the efforts on her behalf," Shimon Peres said.

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    Danish Prime Minister Mr. Anders Fogh Rasmussen Supports the Campaign

    Source : Burmapeacecampaign
    by Worldview Rights 2001-12-11

    The Danish Prime Minister Mr. Anders Fogh Rasmussen regrets that Suu Kyu is still in house arrest. "On the occation of the 100-year anniversary of the Nobel Peace Price as well as the 10-year anniversary of awarding the Price to the Burmese opposition politician, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Denmark regrets that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is not able to participate in the celebrations", The Danish Prime Minister Mr. Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.

    "I have my self the priviledge of being able to participate in the Nobel Peace Price-ceremony, when the Price is presented to the UN General Secretary on Monday the 10th of December in Oslo.

    Aung San Suu Kyi ought to have her freedom and participate in the Oslo celebrations. It is my hope that the past year‘s dialogue between the leaders of Burma and the democratic opposition will bear fruits very soon" Fogh Rasmussen said in a statement.

    Statement of the former Prime Minister,Chairmann of the Social Democratic Party Mr. Poul Nyrup Rasmussen:

    "On this day we have to remember that our attention is important for the people of Burma. When I have met representatives from the exile government of Burma they have stressed the necessity of the work that Denmark and internationally the UN, EU and ILO are doing - by putting pressure on the dictators and by supporting Aung San Suu Kyi. Therefore it is important that we continue our focus on Burma", Mr. Poul Nyrup Rasmussen said.

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    Aung San Suu Kyi urges caution


    Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has cautioned that dialogue with the country's military rulers has yet to start in full. Her comments were reported following a statement by the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) saying it was committed to creating a "functioning democracy". They also came as her National League for Democracy (NLD) said talks with the military must start yielding more tangible results.

    Over the last year, Aung San Suu Kyi has been holding secret United Nations-brokered talks with junta leaders which have raised hopes of a breakthrough. The 1991 Nobel Peace laureate was again placed under house arrest in September 2000, 10 years after the NLD won a landslide election that the military refused to recognise. Despite the recent contacts between the two sides, Aung San Suu Kyi stressed that the process of national reconciliation had barely begun.

    Mutual mistrust

    "It is not that dialogue has begun," she was quoted by Japan's Jiji Press news agency as telling former Japanese Foreign Minister Kabun Muto. "It is a period in which both sides are attempting to erase mutual mistrust," Mr Muto quoted her as saying. According to the Jiji report - monitored by the AFP news agency - Mr Muto met Aung San Suu Kyi at her home in Rangoon on 4 December.

    The statement from the generals, released on Monday, said they were working with Aung San Suu Kyi to find a political settlement. "Today, we are all in the process of joining hands, walking on the same path toward our common objective," it said.

    Negotiations so far have led to the release of nearly 200 political prisoners, but an estimated 1,500 remain in detention. The NLD said on Monday that any further delays in moving towards democracy could lead to "undesirable negative effects".

    "It is now necessary to develop, step by step, the confidence building talks between the SPDC and NLD into meaningful dialogues," it said in a statement carried by the Reuters news agency. The statement was released to mark Burma's National Day.

    Nobel pressure

    The junta's statement directly replied to comments in Oslo by South African retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who said Aung San Suu Kyi was on the winning side of the conflict. Nobel laureates, who had gathered to celebrate 100 years of the peace prize, paid tribute to Aung San Suu Kyi and called for her release. The junta has so far ignored the global chorus calling for her release.

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    Myanmar is struggling to launch full dialogue: report

    TOKYO, Dec 11 (AFP) - Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has told a Japanese lawmaker that her dialogue with the ruling junta on national recouncilation has yet to start in full, a press report said Tuesday.

    "It is not that dialogue has begun," the 1991 Nobel Peace laureate was quoted by former Japanese foreign minister Kabun Muto as saying in a meeting at her home in Yangon, the Jiji Press news agency reported.

    "It is a period in which both sides are attempting to erase mutual mistrust," Muto, a conservative member of the House of Representatives, quoted Aung San Suu Kyi as saying. Muto told Jiji that he met the leader of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) at her home on December 4.

    Aung San Suu Kyi has lived under house arrest since September 2000, and began preliminary talks aimed at "national reconciliation" with the junta a month later. But the dialogue was widely seen to have reached a virtual standstill. The Myanmar junta, which has been the target of economic sanctions from the West, has said it was walking the same path as the democratic opposition.

    In Oslo last Saturday, 20 Nobel Peace Prize winners led a worldwide appeal demanding that Myanmar's military rulers release Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest and free alleged 1,500 other political detainees.

    Aung San Suu Kyi has described the pace of the release of political prisoners as "slow," Muto said. "It is necessary to pursue dialogue at high level by restoring confidence soon," Muto quoted the democracy leader as saying.

    She also reportedly asked the Japanese politician to tell the junta to release political prisoners at faster pace. If these conditions are met, Aung San Suu Kyi said she would not oppose the start of political dialgue but would rather help push it forth, according to Muto.

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    Burma announces ministerial appointments, duties for commanders

    BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom; Dec 11, 2001
    Source: Rangoon Union of Myanmar Government Gazette in Burmese 23 Nov 01 pp 526-528

    The official Gazette of the Union of Myanmar [Burma] Government No. 47 [providing gazette number] issued in Rangoon on 23 November carried on pages 526, 527 and 528 three "Notifications" - No.40/2001, No. 41/2001,and No. 42/2001 - all signed by "Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt, "secretary-1 of the State Peace and Development Council [SPDC]," assigning new duties to six military commanders.

    Notification No. 40/2001 entitled, "Ministerial Appointment", says "The SPDC has appointed Maj-Gen Aye Kywe, commander of Coastal Military Command, as minister with effect from today. On behalf of the government, he will supervise and manage political, economic, and social tasks in the region under his charge."

    Notification No. 41/2001 also entitled, "Ministerial Appointment", says "The SPDC has appointed Commander in Chief of Navy Vice-Adm Kyi Min as minister with effect from today."

    Notification No. 42/2001 is entitled, "Assignment of duties to supervise political, economic, social tasks." It says, "The SPDC has, in addition to military operation duties, assigned the following Bureau of Special Operations commanders to supervise and manage political, economic, and social tasks on behalf of the government in the regions they are in charge of and which are listed beside their names.

    "Maj-Gen Ye Myint, commander of Bureau of Special Operations 1, Magwe, Mandalay, and Sagaing Divisions, and Chin and Kachin States;

    Maj-Gen Aung Htwe, commander of Bureau of Special Operations 2, Kayah and Shan States;

    Maj-Gen Khin Maung Than, commander of Bureau of Special Operations 3, Irrawaddy and Pegu Divisions and Rakhine State; and

    Maj-Gen Maung Bo, commander of Bureau of Special Operations 4, in charge of Tenasserim Division, and Karen and Mon states."

    Before these new appointments, the Bureau of Special Operations was under the sole charge of late Lt-Gen Tin Oo, who died in a helicopter crash earlier in the year.

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    Rights advocate warns against closing down Maneeloy camp

    The Bangkokpost
    By Achara Ashayagachat

    Thailand should let Burmese exiled students stay at the Maneeloy centre until there are definite signals human rights and democracy will be restored in Burma, a human rights advocate said yesterday.

    Vitit Muntabhorn, a law professor at Chulalongkorn University, stressed that there should be no forced repatriation of the Burmese.

    Interior Minister Purachai Piemsomboon has stood firm on plans to close the Maneeloy centre, in Ratchaburi province, on Dec 15. Interior ministry officials say 188 of the 198 Burmese students there have been accepted by third countries. But the students have strongly opposed the closure plan. Thailand is host to another estimated 100,000 Burmese refugees living in camps on the border with Burma.

    Addressing a seminar organised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr Vitit stressed the need to address root causes that had forced Burmese people to flee to Thailand.

    This required a return to democracy in Burma, the release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and respect for human rights for all in that country, he said.

    The UN had been good in the past but needed to be ``more assertive'', he said. A durable solution to the problem of refugees would be the voluntary return of Burmese in safety and dignity, he added. But this could only be assured by a tripartite agreement between the Burmese and Thai governments and the UNHCR, he said.

    Citing the risks Bosnian refugees ran by returning to borderline camps in their homeland, Mr Vitit opposed efforts to ensure a monitoring role for the UNHCR on the Burmese side of the border.

    Burmese refugees should be returned ``to their homes'' not to camps clustered on the Burmese side of the border, he said. The UNHCR should monitor the safety of returnees in these places, not in camps, he said.

    Gen Sanan Kachornklum, chief adviser to Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, stressed the need for a tripartite mechanism to solve the problem of Burmese refugees. He attributed to the tripartite agreement between Thailand, Cambodia and the UNHCR the successful repatriation of some 300,000 Cambodian refugees between 1992-93.

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    No investigation against any other nuclear scientist


    LONDON, December 11 (PNS): Dismissing the report published in New York Times on interrogation by the government of Pakistan against two more nuclear scientist as untrue, President's Press Secretary Major General Rashid Qureshi has said that such reports are by-product of Indian vicious propaganda.

    He said this while reacting to the news on investigation against two more Pakistani Nuclear Scientists on BBC here Monday he said that the news is totally baseless and malicious.

    "The news has been repeated by New York Times as it was earlier published by Indian newspaper Tribune on November 22", he held. The Indian newspaper had also claimed that both of the scientists had moved to Myanmar where they were granted political asylum, he added.

    Contradicting this report he said that the news is absolutely misleading and wrong and such reports have always been spread by the Indian press. Earlier India had circulated the tendentious news concerning flight of Pakistani planes inside Afghanistan, he added. Indian press published this news continuously for three weeks and now they have started publishing the news of nuclear scientists, he continued.

    He regretted that US papers and news agencies such baseless reports without seeking verification. Pakistan had made it clear why the two nuclear scientists sultan Bashir-ud-Din and Abdul Majid were arrested at the time when this news was neither carried by Indian press nor was published in American newspapers, he remarked.Investigation is on against these scientists as they had visited another country without prior permission of government, he noted.

    He said that Pakistan has enhanced the number of scouts and border security forces on Pak-Afghan border and helicopters and regular army has been deployed alongside border and some distance from the border to stop the trespassing of illegal persons. Pakistan has arrested Pakistani, Afghans and Chechens in good number on the charges on entering into Pakistan illegally and the investigation are underway, he added.

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    Not uplifting

    This is Swindon:

    A BOYCOTT has been urged of Swindon bra manufacturer Triumph International because of its business links with the controversial Burmese regime. The company, which employs 200 at its Groundwell headquarters, admits to paying the 1,000 workers at its Burma factory just 60p a day.

    A pressure group called the Burma Campaign believes any western company with business interests in Burma is indirectly supporting a military dictatorship which has been charged with a catalogue of human rights abuses.

    It has launched its campaign against Triumph with the emotive image of a woman wearing a barbed wire bra and the slogan `Support Breasts not Dictators'

    The Burma Campaign, which counts Glenys Kinnock and Sir David Steel amongst its patrons, has previously persuaded BHS, Burton Group and River Island to severe their business links with Burma.

    Yvette Mahon, Director of the Burma Campaign UK, said: "Foreign capital has served to strengthen the very dictatorship that oppresses and impoverishes the people of Burma. Members of the public unwittingly play a part in sustaining military rule in Burma when they buy goods from companies, like Triumph, who operate there."

    The Burmese regime has been accused of employing forced labour and torture and keeping thousands of political prisoners. In 1997 the United States instituted trade sanctions against the country.

    Triumph International spokeswoman Sue Loader said there is no evidence that the campaign has yet affected UK sales. She said that in the Burma factory employees work a 48-hour week and their wages are comparable with those of a middle-ranking government official. She added that none of the garments manufactured there are imported to the UK and said that the factory accounts for one per cent of the company's total global production.

    She said: "In keeping with the whole Triumph Interna-tional Group the welfare of our employees is of paramount importance. Triumph would be unhappy to bow to political pressure and sack 1,000 workers in Myanmar (Burma)."

    Triumph International has had a UK base in Swindon for 30 years. It employs 36,000 people worldwide and manufactures in 18 different countries. "Consumers can take direct action against a company prepared to bolster one of the world's most corrupt and brutal dictatorships by boycotting all Triumph products until the company withdraws from the country."

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    Thailand says fearful Burma's rebel twins can stay

    BANGKOK (Reuters)

    The teenage twins who led a rebel army in Burma's jungles until their surrender earlier this year can stay in Thailand if they are afraid to resettle in the United States after the events of September 11, a Thai official said.

    Kachadpai Burusapatana, secretary general of the National Security Council (NSC), told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday Thailand would not force Johnny and Luther Htoo to relocate to a third country as planned unless they wanted to.

    "Currently, it seems they are not happy to leave...so I won't be forcing them to do so," Kachadpai said.

    The boy soldiers -- believed now to be in their early teens -- led the God's Army ethnic Karen guerrilla group for years. They fought the Burmese army with scores of followers who believed they had mystical powers.

    The pair and 12 others surrendered to Thai authorities in January, after a crackdown by border patrols who cut off their food supply lines.

    Kachadpai said Washington had completed the final stages of formalities to accept the Htoo boys and their family members for resettlement in the United States.

    But Thai media reported last month that television coverage of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington had frightened the boys and inspired them to have second thoughts about a move to the United States.

    "If they are fearful of any danger there, they can stay here," Kachadpai said.

    The twins, who became famous after pictures showed them carrying assault rifles and smoking cigars, told a news conference at the time of their surrender their fighting days were over.

    The Htoo brothers as well as their mother, sister and 12 former God's Army fighters are now living in a Thai border police camp, some 100 km (60 miles) southwest of Bangkok.

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    China's Jiang arrives in Burma as Chinese prisoners freed

    Rangoon (Reuters)

    Chinese President Jiang Zemin arrived in Burma for a four-day official visit on Wednesday, as his hosts freed more than 200 Chinese prisoners as a goodwill gesture.

    Jiang said as he arrived that he hoped his visit would strengthen bilateral ties between the two neighbours.

    "I wish to enhance mutual understanding, deepen friendship and expand cooperation through exchange of views on our bilateral relations and other issues of common interest," he said in a written statement.

    He added that he wanted to learn more about the economic and social development of Burma.

    Jiang is the first Chinese head of state to visit the Southeast Asian country since the current military regime seized power in Yangon in 1988.

    According to a Burmese government spokesman, Jiang and the head of Burma's government, General Than Shwe, will sign agreements covering "a wide range of areas" to promote bilateral co-operation.

    Burma marked Jiang's arrival with the release of a large number of Chinese prisoners, mostly held on immigration charges.

    "Over 200 Chinese prisoners have been released while some others are in the process of being released," a government statement received by Reuters said.

    "They are a good will gesture and to commemorate the visit of the Chinese president to Myanmar."

    Sources told Reuters most of the prisoners were released on December 10 and 11 from facilities around the country.

    Relations between Burma's military government and China have warmed in recent years, with Beijing becoming a key supplier of arms to its southern neighbour.

    This has caused growing concern in other countries in the region, especially in India, that Beijing's political and economic influence is moving rapidly southwards.

    But China still only ranks 15th in terms of foreign direct investment in impoverished Burma, although $60 million worth of investment projects are currently under discussion.

    In the last fiscal year (April 2000-March 2001), Burma imported $293 million worth of goods from China. Exports to China amounted to $104 million.

    Much of the West -- including the United States and the European Union -- shuns contact with the ruling military, which they accuse of human rights violations.

    Jiang departs Burma on December 15.

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    Thais urge new U.N. approach to Burma

    BANGKOK (Reuters)

    Thailand on Wednesday urged the United Nations to soften its stance toward neighbouring Burma's military rulers to help create the right environment for the return of about 100,000 displaced people living on Thai soil.

    Thai National Security Council chief Kachadpai Burusapatana told Reuters the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other international agencies should put development ahead of democracy in Burma.

    "International agencies and the international community must change their approach from pressuring Myanmar (on democracy) to providing incentives and support for Myanmar to reach out to the world," Kachadpai said in an interview.

    Kachadpai said peace, not democracy, was the most important condition for refugees to return home.

    "Some said we should wait for democracy to take root in Myanmar before these people would return home...But in our Thai approach they can return home and make a living there without democracy as long as there is no fighting.

    "We should help build such an environment that facilitates a return of refugees and restores confidence among them," he said.

    The Burmese military held elections in 1990, which were won by the National League for Democracy (NLD) of Aung San Suu Kyi. But the military ignored the result and many opposition supporters fled the country. Others have fled Rangoon's many battles to suppress ethnic insurgents along its borders and crackdowns on demonstrations in its cities.

    For more than a year, U.N. special envoy to Burma Razali Ismail has been brokering talks aimed at bringing democracy through reconciliation between the ruling State Peace and Development Council and Burma's opposition NLD.

    Many nations -- including the United States and the European Union -- maintain sanctions on Burma, saying they will not be lifted until democracy is achieved.


    Kachadpai's remarks come amid a hunger strike by residents of a border camp for displaced persons from Burma over government plans to close it on December 15.

    The Maneeloy camp, around 150 km (95 miles) west of Bangkok, was set up in 1992 to host pro-democracy student activists who fled Burma after crackdowns by the military in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It once held as many as 3,000 refugees.

    The UNHCR says it has already relocated some 1,500 refugees from the camp to the United States, Australia and Europe since 1992 and expects to resettle a final batch of 200 exiled Burmese students living in the camp by year-end.

    Kachadpai said after the camp closure, Thai authorities would deport to Burma another 100 displaced persons now staying there.

    "Some of them demand that we delay the closure of the camp by three months, but we will not negotiate over their demands," he said.

    Kachadpai said Thailand, which shares a 2,400-km (1,490-mile) border with Burma, had set a three-year plan to send 109,000 displaced persons in 10 temporary camps in four Thai border provinces back to Burma by 2003.

    "It's been 15 years since these 109,000 people have caused various problems along our border from security to deforestation," he said. "We have a very firm strategy to make these people return home within three years."

    Kachadpai said sending the displaced people home was the "real humanitarian" approach because leaving them in Thai camps deprived them of hope for a future.

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    Three illegal Burmese immigrants nabbed in Singapore

    Source : AFP

    Three men, believed to be illegal immigrants from Burma, were arrested early Monday morning in the forested area near Sembawang Park.

    The search for the men started Sunday after 8pm when the Police Coast Guard saw, through their night surveillance cameras, three men jumping off a motorised sampan and swimming towards shore.

    The sampan then made a u-turn and sped back towards Johor.

    Police land forces were activated and about five-and-a-half hours later, all three men, who did not have any valid travel documents, were found and arrested.

    The three will be charged in court Tuesday for entering Singapore illegally.

    If convicted, they could be jailed up to six months, fined up to $6,000 and given at least three strokes of the cane

    .In the meantime, Police advise the public to call them if they see anything unusual along Singapore's coastline.

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    Rights Groups Press Energy Companies To Leave Burma

    NEW YORK (Dow Jones)

    U.S. and U.K. energy companies that do business with an authoritarian regime in Southeast Asia drew fire this week from U.S. demonstrators opposed to human-rights abuses in the region.

    Activists gathered outside 14 Hess gasoline stations Saturday from Massachusetts to Florida, waving signs that read, "Honk for human rights" and "Leave Burma now." They called on Amerada Hess Corp. (AHC), which holds a 25% share in Premier Oil PLC, to insist that Premier leave Burma.

    "Hess, Hess, what the Hess? Out of Burma! It's a mess," about 20 protesters shouted in New York City. "They rape the people, rape the earth. We know what your oil is worth!"

    Unocal Corp. (UCL), based in El Segundo, Calif., and TotalFinaElf SA (TOT) of France also produce gas in Burma, from the Yadana field.

    Amerada Hess responded Monday, saying it won't pressure Premier to withdraw from its Burma operations.

    "In analyzing our future investment in Premier, clearly that is one of the many factors that needs to be examined," Amerada Hess Vice President Carl Tursi said, referring to human-rights abuses in Burma. "But we have to make decisions in the best interest of our shareholders."

    Premier has built an offshore production platform to tap the Yetagun field in the Andaman Sea, and a pipeline to carry gas overland to the Thai border. Other partners in the Yetagun operation include Burma's and Malaysia's national oil companies.

    Premier also has oil and gas operations in Pakistan, Albania, Indonesia and the U.K.

    Amerada Hess has two voting members on Premier's board of directors, but Tursi said they both excuse themselves from decisions involving Burma operations.

    "We have no operations in Burma ourselves and no people there," Tursi said. "U.K. law is different than U.S. law in how much influence we can exert that is not purely in the interest of Premier shareholders in general. People have clearly been applying U.S. interests to this, and I don't think that quite works there."

    Human rights and environmental groups criticized Tursi's response.

    "It's not okay for him to say that they're going to continue to reap the benefits from Premier's project and not stand up and say this is wrong," said Rick Herz, litigation director for EarthRights International.

    Premier Says It's Invested In Villages Along Pipeline.

    Premier Oil executives in London could not be reached for comment this week, but the company's Web site states that it has provided $1.8 million for social development within villages along the Yetagun pipeline. It has invested the money in building schools and health facilities and improving the water supply, according to Premier's "Social Performance Report 2001."

    "We believe that the right to development is a basic right, without which other human rights cannot be secured or sustained," Premier's human-rights policy states.

    But EarthRights International has learned through interviews with hundreds of refugees from the pipeline region that Burma's government has militarized the pipeline area and forced villagers to build roads and barracks, Herz said. EarthRights has offices in Washington, D.C., and Thailand.

    "The area was, as they put it, secured by the military," Herz said. "As is the case wherever the Burmese military goes, there was also summary execution, torture and rape on a pretty massive scale. It just became untenable for large numbers of people to live there."

    Moe Chan, co-founder of Free Burma Coalition's New York chapter, said he left his home in Burma 10 years ago after witnessing firsthand the military's heavy-handed rule. "I know how oppressive this government is," Chan said. "If I have at least two meals a day here and am able to speak out, I want to turn back and help the people in Burma."

    The U.S. State Department, U.N. International Labor Organization and private human-rights groups have reported widespread abuses by the Myanmar military.

    The regime, which calls itself the State Peace and Development Council, "continued to restrict severely freedom of speech, press, assembly and association," the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor said in a report on the country. The report didn't link any abuses directly to the natural gas operations.

    Burma's defense ministry denies allegations of human-rights abuses in a nine-volume treatise titled "The Truth," published on the Web at Myanmar.com.

    Despite its claims of no wrongdoing, the Burmese regime prevented 1991 Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy from taking power after the league won 1990 national elections overwhelmingly. The junta also prevented Suu Kyi from joining other peace laureates this week in Oslo for the centennial of the Nobel awards.

    Last year, Burma's government issued a decree prohibiting forced labor. But Human Rights Watch said Monday that forced labor continues in ethnic-minority regions of the south. That's more than enough reason for Premier and other oil and gas companies to leave, said Mike Jendrzejczyk, Human Rights Watch's Washington director for Asia.

    "Egregious use of forced labor is so widespread that no foreign companies should be in the country because they may directly or indirectly benefit from it," Jendrzejczyk said.

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