Daily News- December 21 - 2001- Friday

  • EU voices concern to Thailand over treatment of Myanmar refugees
  • Dissidents Relase Statement on Maneeloy Closure
  • Thai government resists call to aid refugees
  • Thai PM willing to arrange talks for Burmese
  • 'UN wants Thai help on Burma'
  • Burma executes 3 soldiers
  • Friends of Necessity
  • Burma joins the nuclear club
  • Myanmar Hosts BIMST-EC Senior Officials' Meeting
  • TACHILEK POWER PLANT: Scepticism over work halt

  • EU voices concern to Thailand over treatment of Myanmar refugees

    BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) _ The European Union has prepared a strongly worded diplomatic note urging Thailand to shelter about 800 Myanmar refugees displaced by fighting at the Thai-Myanmar border, a diplomat said Thursday.

    The note also protests the forced repatriation of 63 of the ethnic Karen refugees by the Thai army on Nov. 6, the diplomat said on condition of anonymity. He said the 63 asylum seekers were pushed back into southern Myanmar from Thailand's western Kanchanaburi province despite a request by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees that they be granted refuge.

    Diplomats from Spain, Belgium and the European Commission in Bangkok visited the Foreign Ministry later Thursday, apparently to present the note, known as a demarche. However, they refused to speak to reporters. The Foreign Ministry said it will issue a statement later.

    The demarche has been approved by the foreign ministries of all 15 EU member states and appears to reflect growing concern at a perceived hardening in Thai attitudes toward Myanmar refugees at its border. It follows a letter sent to the Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai on Nov. 16, on behalf of the EU, United States, Canada, Norway and Switzerland to protest the forced repatriation of the 63 asylum seekers on Nov. 6. The ministry has not responded.

    According to an Amnesty International statement earlier this month, the asylum seekers were uprooted from the village of Htee Wah Doh, which was attacked by the Myanmar military in late November, forcing more than 700 to flee the area.

    Currently, the Karens are sheltering at nearby Halockanee, a camp just inside the Myanmar border controlled by the New Mon State Party, an ethnic army which agreed to a cease-fire with the Myanmar regime in 1995.

    The Myanmar army attack on Htee Wah Doh was reportedly provoked by the presence of a splinter Mon armed group which started fighting against government forces.

    Thailand currently shelters more than 120,000 refugees who have fled forced relocation and fighting between ethnic insurgencies and Myanmar military regime since the mid-1980s. It is keen to expedite their return to Myanmar.

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    Dissidents Relase Statement on Maneeloy Closure

    By Maung Maung Oo
    The Irrawaddy

    Four Burmese dissident groups have asked the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Thai authorities to reconsider a plan to repatriate Burmese refugees living in the Maneeloy holding center who have not been given refugee status by the UNHCR.

    The All Burma Students' Democratic Front (ABSDF), Democratic Party for a New Society (DPNS), National League for Democracy-Liberated Area (NLD-LA) and Network for Democracy and Development (NDD) released a joint statement last Friday regarding the growing tensions in Maneeloy, located 150 km west of Bangkok in Ratchaburi province.

    The Maneeloy camp was opened in 1992 and became the main camp for dissident Burmese students living in Thailand. Currently, about 500 Burmese live in Maneeloy, including 197 former Burmese students. Of the total, 170 have been granted "persons of concern" status by the UNHCR, while the rest have been classified as illegal immigrants by Thai authorities.Recently, the Thai government decided to shut down the camp and drew up a plan to move the residents into a new camp in Suan Phung district, just 10 km from the Burmese border. Those who have been denied refugee status will be repatriated, according to Thai officials.

    Maneeloy residents fear that if they are forcibly repatriated to Burma, they could face lengthy prison sentences and other human rights abuses. Another fear is that the security at the new camp could easily be compromised due to its proximity to the border. Rangoon-backed militias frequently enter Thai territory and burn down refugee camps near the border.

    Last week, around fifty students staged a hunger strike to draw attention to their safety concerns and to demand that Thai authorities abandon their plans to close the Maneeloy camp. About five students are still on strike, while several other hunger strikers have been admitted to the camp's clinic. Thai authorities have already postponed an earlier plan to close Maneeloy on Dec 15 and will instead wait until end of this month due to delays in the construction of the border camps.

    Pairote Promsan, the Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Interior, said that the illegal immigrants would have to return to Burma after serving jail sentences for illegally entering the kingdom. The remaining students will be transferred to camps along the border.

    The Burmese Students Association (BSA) sent an open letter from the camp to the UNHCR on 13 December saying that the BSA will be forced to take action if the UNHCR ignores taking a peaceful approach to solving the problem. BSA said it would hold the UNHCR responsible for any negative consequences.Yesterday, the UNHCR, Thai authorities and Maneeloy representatives held a tripartite meeting without releasing the details.

    Thailand based human rights groups call on the Thai government to halt the repatriation of Burmese refugees until justice and political freedoms are restored in Burma. Also, it was reported that the European Union is to lodge a formal protest to the Thai government about the treatment of Burmese refugees.

    Since the Burmese Embassy in Bangkok capture in October 1999, and the Ratchaburi Hospital siege in January 2000, Thai policy towards Burmese refugees has been less forgiving.Some analysts suggest that the Thai government is pressuring the UNHCR to resolve the issue as quickly as possible but without upsetting the Burmese junta. Bilateral relations have warmed recently and the junta has been critical of the refugee camps that they believe house anti-Rangoon forces. Over 100,000 Burmese refugees live in 11 refugee camps along the border.

    Meanwhile, Gen Sanan Kajornklum, an adviser to the defense ministry and key broker in the repatriation of Cambodian refugees in the early 1990s, suggested that Thailand should set up a three-year timeframe for the repatriation of Burmese refugees and begin preparing for that goal. The situation along the border is still dangerous for ethnic people. Burmese military troops have started their dry season offensives on ethnic groups that have not yet signed cease-fire agreements. Thousands more are expected to flee the fighting and enter into Thailand.

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    Thai government resists call to aid refugees

    Bhanravee Tansubhapol and AP
    The Bangkokpost

    Thailand is resisting a European Union call that it give refuge to 796 mainly Karen people displaced by fighting on the Thai-Burmese border, a source said.Ambassadors from Belgium, Spain and the European Commission made the call in an aide-memoire to the Foreign Ministry.

    The envoys cited a Burmese army attack on a group of civilians on Nov 21 in which one man was injured. They said the situation posed a serious threat to the safety of the asylum seekers.But the ministry said Thai military reports suggested the situation was not so serious as to warrant their being brought into the country.The aide memoire also mentioned the repatriation of 63 Karens on Nov 6 but no further detail was given.

    The ministry has not responded to a letter sent to Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai on Nov 16, on behalf of the EU, United States, Canada, Norway and Switzerland, protesting against the forced repatriation.The Karens were pushed back into southern Burma from Kanchanaburi.

    AP said the diplomatic step was approved by foreign ministries of all 15 EU member states and appeared to reflect growing concern at a perceived hardening in Thai attitudes to Burmese refugees.The source, however, said the envoys were expressing concern rather than lodging a protest.

    According to a recent Amnesty International statement quoted by AP, the asylum seekers were uprooted from the village of Htee Wah Doh, which was attacked by the Burmese military.Houses and a hospital were burned and looted, and 15 Karen villagers arrested. Some were forced to act as porters for Burma's army. One villager was shot in the leg, which was later amputated, and several other villagers were still missing.

    The Karens are sheltering at nearby Halockanee, a camp just inside the border controlled by the New Mon State Party, an ethnic army which agreed to a ceasefire with Burma in 1995.The Burmese army attack on Htee Wah Doh was reportedly provoked by the presence of a splinter Mon armed group which started fighting government forces.Thailand shelters more than 100,000 refugees who have fled forced relocation and fighting between ethnic insurgents and the Burmese military.

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    Thai PM willing to arrange talks for Burmese

    The Bangkokpost
    BY Saritdet Marukatat

    Meeting proposed for junta, ethnic groups

    Thailand was willing to organise talks between the ruling junta in Rangoon and ethnic minority groups in order to end conflicts in Burma, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said.

    ``Thailand can do that because of our close relationship with Burma at present,'' the premier told reporters on his flight back from his visit to the United States.In talks with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan in New York, Mr Thaksin commended a UN attempt to end the political deadlock and build national reconciliation in Burma by encouraging dialogue between the Rangoon regime, known as the State Peace and Development Council, and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi of the National League for Democracy.

    He also conveyed to the UN chief his impression of Razali Ismail, the UN special envoy on Burma, and expressed a wish to discuss the situation in Burma with him in Bangkok.But Mr Thaksin stressed to Mr Annan that more had to be done to bring about permanent peace in Burma which would not come until all ethnic groups join the peace process.

    Mr Thaksin told reporters that the government would be ready to organise a meeting between the Burmese rulers and minority groups, if asked.Also, Mr Thaksin said he would delegate government agencies and private sector representatives to quickly map out plans for the realisation of free trade agreements Thailand had proposed with other countries.They would also be asked to prepare assistance for producers likely to be hit by his government's policy to open up trade and investment without tariffs.

    Leading representatives from the Thai Chamber of Commerce, the Federation of Thai Industries, and the Thai Bankers Association joined the prime minister on his working visit to the US.Thailand proposed a study into the feasibility of a free-trade agreement with the US during the trip to Washington. The country has either proposed or is preparing to propose free-trade arrangements with Japan, India, Australia and Chile.

    The prime minister admitted that some sectors could face stiff outside competition from the government's push for bilateral free-trade schemes and they needed to adjust for their survival.But he believed the strategy would benefit Thailand in the long run as the free flow of trade through free-trade regimes would make the country more attractive to foreign investors.

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    'UN wants Thai help on Burma'

    The Nation-Published on Dec 21, 2001

    Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra yesterday said that Thailand would play a more active role in both the economic and political affairs of the region and suggested the possibility of getting involved in the political stand-off between Burma's ruling junta and the opposition.

    The premier said that during |his visit to New York, the United Nations' Secretary-General Kofi Annan had asked Thailand to play a more active role in regional affairs, pointing to the political deadlock between Burma's opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) and the ruling junta, one |of the world's most condemned regimes. Thaksin said the UN special representative to Burma, whose job is to help push for dialogue between the opposition and the junta, would be consulting with the Thai government to get better idea about how to deal with Rangoon.He did not elaborate whether Thailand's involvement would go beyond consultation and involve the country acting as a mediator between the junta and the NLD.

    During the UN General Assembly last year, Annan had asked Asean to urge some of its members to help resolve the political stalemate in Burma but the idea was immediately shot down by Rangoon.

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    Burma executes 3 soldiers

    The Bangkokpost
    By Cheewin Sattha

    Burma has executed three of its soldiers involved in a clash with Thai troops in September in which a Thai villager was killed.The revelation came as Burma officially apologised for the Sept 19 clash near the Ban Huay Phung border crossing.

    The apology was made during a Thai-Burmese township border commitee meeting at Mae Sariang district office on Wednesday. The meeting resulted in agreement on a number of issues aimed at improving relations between the countries.At the meeting were the Thai committee's chairman Col Chainarong Tanarun and his Burmese counterpart Maj Kyaw U.

    The Thai delegation put forward proposals covering water transport, security, cross-border trade, drug suppression and future committee meetings. The Burmese representatives urged for measures dealing with Burmese minorities and refugees.The meeting agreed to allow emergency boat travel on the Salween river between 6pm until 6am on condition that there was enough lighting.

    Burma promised to stop its troops encroaching on Thai soil, lift an import ban on some Thai goods, take serious action on the drug trade, and hold border committee meetings more often.Huay Ton Noon border crossing in Khun Yuam district and Huay Pong La pass in Burma will be used as official contact points between the two countries.

    The Burmese delegation asked the Thai military to find out whether any rebels were among the 40,000 Karen refugees in Mae Hong Son. An official request from Rangoon is expected soon.Meanwhile, a provincial source said Deputy Agriculture Minister Praphat Panyachartrak wanted more than 20,000 Burmese and Karen refugees relocated from Salween forest.

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    Friends of Necessity

    By Bertil Lintner
    Far Eastern Economic Review Issue cover-dated December 27, 2001 - January 3, 2002

    China needs Burma as an export outlet for its impoverished and landlocked southwest. But its rivals are suspicous of the warm ties with Rangoon

    CHINESE PRESIDENT JIANG ZEMIN may have spent much of the time sightseeing during his recent visit to Burma, but economics was at the heart of his trip. Beijing long ago identified Burma as vital to the well-being of its impoverished, provinces in the southwest--Yunnan, Sichuan and Guizhou.

    But its regional rivals, above all India and Vietnam, believe China's motives for courting Burma's military government are more sinister--they believe Beijing wants to use its neighbour to expand its strategic influence into Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean.

    Burma's repressive generals, for their part, see China's economic, military and political support as vital in a world where they have few influential friends. The two need each other, the junta for its survival and the Chinese for the sake of economic development and political stability in their landlocked southwest.

    Jiang's landmark December 12-15 visit, the first to Burma by a Chinese president since the present junta seized power in 1988, served to reinforce these close ties. But there was a deeper purpose behind their talks and a clue was given by Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan, who told China's official Xinhua news agency that the two sides had agreed to expand their cooperation in "infrastructural constructions" and other areas.

    Asian intelligence officials say he was referring to China's desire to link its southwestern provinces and their 160-million-strong population to vital export markets, via Burma's river and road networks. They say the Chinese proposals were encapsulated in a "Draft Agreement on Highway-Waterway Combined Transport" presented to the Burmese in March. The proposed 30-year accord, which would allow Chinese traders much easier and more regular access to and through Burma, seems to have been accepted in principle by the Burmese government, the sources say. It is the natural culmination of a joint study carried out in 1997 on the possibility of forging land and water transport routes from Yunnan to Burma's mighty Irrawaddy River.

    Since then the Chinese have built a new road linking the border town of Ruili in Yunnan to the Burmese port of Bhamo on the Irrawaddy, 1,300 kilometres north of Rangoon. And in June, China handed over three dredgers to the Burmese to clear the Irrawaddy for bigger barges that could carry Chinese goods downriver. Meanwhile, a new port and shipyard is being built with Chinese funding and technicians near Rangoon. According to intelligence sources, the facility is primarily designed to cater for Chinese exports on Chinese vessels as it will be able to handle vessels of up to 10,000 deadweight tonnes--much bigger than most Burmese-owned vessels.

    China's vision of opening a route through Burma is nothing new. Former Vice-Minister of Communications Pan Qi first proposed forging such an export route back in 1985, when Rangoon had little control over its border regions. "Only by doing this can we speed the economic development of the southwest," wrote Pan, who argued that the southwest could not rely on ports in Guangdong and Fujian provinces because of the distance, poor roads and limited capacity of these ports.

    Two key factors have helped China come within a whisper of achieving his dream. They include the Burmese junta's forging of peace pacts with most of its border-based ethnic-minority insurgent groups and, say Rangoon-based diplomats, the appointment of Lt.-Gen. Khin Nyunt in February as chairman of the Central Supervisory Committee for Ensuring Secure and Smooth Transport, which plans infrastructure projects. Khin Nyunt, who heads the junta's intelligence service and is seen as very pro-China, appears to be winning the upper hand in a perceived power struggle with army chief, Gen. Maung Aye, they note, which is good news for Beijing.

    Not everyone's happy with the Burmese government's increasing dependence on China. India is convinced that China is on an expansionist path, rather than looking after the interests of its southwest. It has been courting Maung Aye and was furious when Khin Nyunt visited Pakistan last year when India's army chief was visiting Burma, say Asian envoys. But the Indians are unlikely to be able to dislodge the Chinese, who have thrown their weight firmly behind the reviled military junta. The visit of Jiang, who stressed that Burma "must be allowed to choose its own development path suited to its own conditions," reinforced this message.

    That's also bad news for much of the international community and the United Nations, which has been trying to broker a deal between the junta and the country's democracy movement, led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

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    Burma joins the nuclear club

    By Bertil Lintner
    Far Eastern Economic Review Issue cover-dated December 27, 2001 - January 3, 2002


    Burma is one of the world's poorest and least developed countries, yet it is apparently embarking on a nuclear-power project with the help of Russian and, possibly, Pakistani scientists. And Beijing is none too happy at seeing Moscow muscling in on its turf, according to diplomats. The project was initiated by Russia's Atomic Energy Ministry, which in February announced plans to build a 10-megawatt research reactor in central Burma.

    In July, Burma's Foreign Minister Win Aung, accompanied by the military-ruled country's ministers of defence, energy, industry and railways, travelled to Moscow to finalize the deal. At the time, Russian news agencies quoted Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov as saying that Russia considers Burma a "promising partner in Asia and the Pacific region." He had reason to be pleased as Russia also managed to sell 10 MiG-29 fighter aircraft for $130 million to Burma. Rival China is Burma's main military supplier, while the West shuns the country.

    The ground-breaking ceremony for the nuclear facility is scheduled to take place at a secret location near the town of Magwe in January. The equipment and reactor will be delivered in 2003, while more than 300 Burmese nationals have received nuclear technical training in Russia over the past year, according to Russian diplomats.

    Tight secrecy surrounds the fledgling nuclear programme and there is little noticeable activity around the recently established Department of Atomic Energy in Rangoon, residents say. The project is believed to be the brainchild of Burmese Minister of Science and Technology U Thaung, who is reported to believe that nuclear research is necessary for "a modern nation."

    But while Burma suffers from a chronic power shortage, it's not clear why it would need a research reactor, which is used mainly for medical purposes. The programme came under the spotlight recently after two Pakistani nuclear scientists, with long experience at two of their country's most secret nuclear installations, showed up in Burma after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

    According to Asian and European intelligence sources, Suleiman Asad and Muhammed Ali Mukhtar left Pakistan for Burma when it became clear that American officials were interested in interrogating them about their links with suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. The U.S. believes bin Laden wants to develop a nuclear weapon. A Pakistani news agency reported that the duo went to Burma to assist local scientists in "some kind of research work," leading many observers to believe they had joined the nuclear project.

    There is no clear evidence linking them to the Russian-supported nuclear programme. But one Asian diplomat speculates that if the Pakistanis are indeed assisting Burmese scientists it could be in the field of taking care of nuclear waste. This is a highly lucrative business, and Burma desperately needs foreign exchange to help to prop up its moribund economy.

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    Myanmar Hosts BIMST-EC Senior Officials' Meeting

    YANGON, December 20 (Xinhua)--The Fourth Meeting of Senior Officials of the BIMST-EC (Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand-Economic Cooperation) has begun here to discuss waysof shaping the organization into a fully functional, effective and successful regional forum.

    Speaking at Wednesday's opening of the senior officials' meeting (SOM), Myanmar Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs U Khin Maung Win said the world is characterized by the twin processes of globalization and liberalization which offer not only opportunities but also challenges.

    He added that the current complex international situation and the downturn in the global economy have further complicated the situation. "Unless the developing nations come together and cooperate with each other, they face the danger of being marginalized and of being left behind in the march towards progress and devglopment," he warned.

    The two-day SOM meeting has discussed a report of the working group of the organization, adopted the BIMST-EC logo to be submitted to the ministerial meeting and reviewed the Third BIMST-EC Trade and Economic Ministers' Meeting held in Yangon last February. The BIMST-EC, a crucial link between the nations of South Asia and Southeast Asia, was originally formed in Thailand in June 1997 by four Asian countries of Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand bordering the Bay of Bengal with a view to bolstering economic cooperation among its member countries and its membership was extended to Myanmar in August that year.

    The BIMST-EC was reported to have been able to identify six main areas for cooperation which cover trade and investment, technology, transport and communications, energy, tourism and fisheries, and two new areas in agriculture and disaster management have been added for future cooperation. The five countries have also agreed to work tmuards establishing a free trade area.

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    TACHILEK POWER PLANT: Scepticism over work halt

    The Nation Published on Dec 20, 2001

    CHIANG RAI - Mae Sai conservationists expressed surprise yesterday at reports that the Burmese military junta had ordered a halt to the construction of a lignite power plant in the Burmese border province of Tachilek.

    Colonel Than Shwe, Tachilek commander, said the State Peace and Development Council, gave no clear reason for the order, but construction of the almost-completed plant had stopped. It is unclear whether the order would close the power plant permanently, he said. He added that construction was nearly completed.

    The controversial lignite power electrical plant is at the core of a conflict between local residents in the Thai border district of Mae Sai and Burmese authorities in the neighbouring town of Tachilek over pollution fears from the plant. Environmentalist group Rak Mae Sai in April organised a series of protests to oppose the construction.

    Transportation of equipment from China via Thai soil has been halted since then. The conflict then moved to the construction site - about five kilometres from the Thai border - last month. But Pang Polchai, an adviser to the Rak Mae Sai environmentalists, doubted the authenticity of the junta's reported move, as the group had obtained no official notification from Burmese or Thai authorities.

    The group is insisting the power plant be moved at least 50 kilometres from the Thai border, and compensation be paid if the plant pollutes Mae Sai. Pang said he would urge Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh to raise their concerns with Burmese officials next month when he visited Tachilek. A Thai official said the latest move signalled the junta wanted good relations with Thailand.

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