Daily News-July 03 - 2001- Tuesday

  • New freedom deepens the Burma puzzle
  • Burma faces financial collapse
  • Confusion over Location of Imprisoned Student Leader
  • Burma says isolation makes fight against drugs more difficult
  • After India, it will be Burma
  • Corporations Feel Heat on Global Issues
  • Myanmar Airline Still Struggling with Bottom Line
  • Myanmar Beats China 2-1 in Women's Sepak Takraw Friendly

  • New freedom deepens the Burma puzzle

    July 2, 2001
    By CNN's John Raedler- Bangkok Bureau Chief

    BANGKOK (CNN) -- Signs of a potentially historic political thaw continue in Myanmar, formerly Burma, as its military government appears to be loosening its notoriously tight grip on power.

    The military leadership is allowing offices of its long oppressed political opposition, the National League for Democracy (NLD), to reopen. At the same time the government continues to release members of the NLD who have been held in detention.

    But according to diplomats and analysts CNN has spoken to, just how these developments might play out remains murky.

    Late last week NLD offices reopened in Taikkyi and Hmawbi, townships outside the capital Yangon. More offices are expected to open their doors in coming days. "This is an auspicious moment," said Soe Myint, a member of the NLD's Central Executive Committee, as the Taikkyi office resumed for business.

    NLD leader absent

    Conspicuously absent from the ceremonies was the NLD's leader, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who has not been seen outside her house and its grounds since last September. But she and leaders of the military's ruling body, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), have been engaged in a private dialogue since last October.

    The NLD says the military government is allowing it to resume for business in about half of the 40 offices it used to have in and around Yangon. NLD official Soe Myint says the talks between Aung San Suu Kyi and the generals could have a lot to do with the latest openings.

    The military closed most NLD offices in 1998 after the league threatened to unilaterally convene a parliament based on the results of a 1990 national election which the pro-democracy party won in a landslide. The generals refused to honor the outcome of that vote and cracked down hard on political dissent.

    Smart move

    Several diplomats and analysts CNN spoke to cheered the reopenings.Organizations from the United Nations down believe it's a move in the right direction, they say.

    "It suggests the dialogue is still alive and that not only are the two sides talking but -- importantly -- they are achieving agreements and acting on those agreements," said one analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity. But it was still a step short of holding elections, power sharing or bringing the NLD in from the cold, the analyst added.

    Another analyst echoed that caution, saying: "Anyone who pretends to know what this (the office re-openings) might actually mean six or 12 months down the road is guessing."

    Coinciding with the office re-openings, the military government released more NLD detainees last week. The generals have been freeing groups of pro-democracy activists from so-called "government guest houses" throughout much of this year.

    More releases expected

    Most of the international community has applauded these releases. But commentators remain cautions.

    "There is still a very big question as to how strong and viable the NLD is as a political organization," one analyst said. There was a "strong school of thought" among Myanmar-watchers, he said, that due to the military's harassment, detention and re-education of NLD members and supporters in recent years, the NLD had been "pretty much gutted" as an effective political organization.

    He said there was a "bigger question" surrounding the release of the NLD detainees: "will they be re-joining a dynamic political organization, revitalized by their return -- or will they be re-joining a shell of an organization with their own commitment diminished?"

    So far, it appears that the re-opening of the NLD offices and the continuing release of NLD detainees in Myanmar raises more questions than answers.
    Burma faces financial collapse

    The Irish Times

    With inflation at 20 per cent and rising rapidly, many Burmese can no longer pay for basic necessities, reports Nicole Veash from Rangoon

    BURMA: Burma is facing its biggest economic crisis of recent years and has just two months foreign currency reserves left, local diplomats say. With inflation running at 20 per cent and rising sharply, the cost of many consumer goods is spiralling out of control.

    Diplomats based in Rangoon say that recent fighting on the Thai-Burmese border, which hit exports badly, proved to be the catalyst for the financial freefall.

    "We know that government officials have been going round to money-lenders in the capital trying to buy up dollars, so we suspect that they only have a few months of hard currency reserves left," said one.

    In the past few weeks, the value of the Burmese currency has halved to around 800 kyat to the dollar. In some shops, labels have been removed from goods because prices are changing so rapidly.

    In the past month there have even been whisperings of discontent from Burmese, who know that any form of dissent can lead to years of imprisonment.

    Mr Mo Chu (33), a bus driver, says that even basic necessities are now beyond his reach. "Everything has doubled in price since April," he said. "A sack of rice, a cup of tea, even clothes - it's all so expensive."

    One month ago, a sack of rice cost 2,400 kyat. This month the same rice was selling in Rangoon for 4,000 kyat; while a cup of tea went up from 35 to 70 kyat in the same period. Bus fares and taxi prices have similarly increased. The price of petrol on the black market has seen a 300 per cent rise.

    Meanwhile, the country's ruling junta is thought to be propping up the economy by printing more money, a move that could further fuel inflation and add to Burma's economic difficulties.

    Despite the economic problems Burma's second city of Mandalay and much of northern Burma is proving to be a magnet to entrepreneurial Chinese businessmen from across the border.Happy to exploit the moribund Burmese market, which many Western companies have boycotted in protest at the unelected regime, they are providing cheaply made goods to a product-starved nation. In the city's Zeigyo market, the stalls are packed high with Chinese goods.

    Prof Wiorasakdi Mahatdhanopol, from Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, observed: "Despite Burma's economic problems, the Chinese know that the country is a huge market for their products. "The Burmese people are poor and they can't afford to buy the materials needed to manufacture their own products or pay for things from neighbouring countries like Thailand.

    "By selling their goods inside Burma at very low prices," Prof Mahatdhanopol said, "the Chinese are cleverly positioning themselves as the dominant force in their neighbour's economy."
    Confusion over Location of Imprisoned Student Leader

    source :Burma Courier: June 30, 2001

    Based on news from Mizzima and DVB: Updated to June 27, 2001

    NEW DELHI - There have been conflicting reports about the current location of one of Burma's most widely known political prisoners.

    A story posted by Mizzima News this week said that student leader Min Ko Naing had shifted to a prison in Buthidaung township from Sittwe jail where he has been held for years. A report by the same agency in January said the condition of the chairman of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (Bakatha) had deteriorated and that he found it difficult to walk without assistance.

    Observers told Mizzima that the move would make it more difficult for international human rights organizations to monitor the situation of student leader.But a news broadcast by DVB radio last week said the student leader was still in Sittwe prison and that his health had improved.

    Human rights groups have appealed for the release of Min Ko Naing for years. His release following ten years in prison is long overdue. He completed his sentence in 1999.
    Burma says isolation makes fight against drugs more difficult

    source : Channel News Asis
    by Indochina Bureau Chief Romen Bose

    Myanmar says no country can solve the region's drug menace on its own with isolation and sanctions making matters worse for poorer ASEAN nations.

    Opening Yangon's first ever Drug Museum, Secretary of the State Peace and Development Council, LTG Khin Nyunt also noted that problems cannot be solved by finger pointing and making unfounded allegations. He was referring to recent charges by Thai authorities that Myanmar troops were assisting drug lords in smuggling drugs across their common border.

    It was a colourful affair in Myanmar's capital as senior military and government officials witnessed the opening of the US$1.8 million drug elimination museum. The museum, say officials, is to educate people on the adverse consequences of the drug trade.But more importantly it is to show the world that Myanmar is taking the drug war seriously and making sincere attempts to eradicate drugs despite border problems with its neighbours.

    "The drug problem in Myanmar is a very complex and delicate issue since it is linked not only to the political, social and economic aspects of the nation but also involves the national races in border areas who lag behind in development." said the general. "So the problem must be tackled with patience and understanding and will necessitate a certain amount of time," added LTG Khin Nyunt.

    The history of Myanmar's drug eradication is displayed via dioramas and wax models. They show the government's success in achieving peace with 16 ethnic armed groups and the crop substitution measures in places like the northern Shan state to prevent villagers from going back to Opium or Amphetamine manufacture.

    Critics are charging that the government is not doing enough to remove drug traffickers and their factories located in Myanmar.But officials say its 15-year plan to remove all drugs from Myanmar must be given a chance to work.

    "The people who are directly involved in addressing the drug problem are very serious especially not only our neighbouring countries but all the countries in the world especially in ASEAN," said Colonel Kyaw Thien, Member, Myanmar Central Committee for Drug and Narcotics Control. "I have attended a lot of ASEAN senior officials drug meetings and I have seen them, met them and talked with them and I know they are quite serious," the colonel added.

    Also in pride of place at the museum is a large picture of Thai Prime Minister and Senior General Than Shwe at the signing of a drugs agreement, a clear sign that the two neighbours are back on talking terms.

    Although the opening of the museum is aimed at showcasing Myanmar's fight against drugs, the main challenge say officials is in getting enough funds to fight rich druglords that operate on the countries borders. Without adequate funding, the war against drugs is expected to continue for a long while more.
    After India, it will be Burma

    The Statesman (New Delhi): July 2, 2001

    MOKOKCHUNG (Nagaland), July 1. - The NSCN-K will turn its attention to Myanmar after the Naga political problem is settled with India and bring all Nagas together in "one sovereign country." The NSCN-K and the Centre declared a ceasefire on 28 April after about a year of "informal" truce.

    The NSCN-K general secretary and "prime minister" of the "government of People's Republic of Nagaland", Mr N Kitovi Zhimomi, told The Statesman somewhere in Mokokchung district that half the Naga population lives in Myanmar and his organisation cannot rest till they (Nagas in Myanmar) and their land are freed from Myanmarese occupation and integrated with other Nagas and the areas inhabited by them in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and the present state of Nagaland as on sovereign nation.

    Sitting in his seemingly well fortified office - a close circuit TV watches for any inimical activity outside the building built on a hill slope while over a dozen young men with automatic weapons guard the way to his chamber three stories below the road level - Mr Zhimomi asserted that no solution of the Naga political problem could be found within the Indian Constitution. "Even if we arrive at any settlement with the Indian government regarding Nagas living in India, our struggle against Myanmar will continue," he said.

    According to him, about 1.3 million Nagas live inside the "administrative zone" of the NSCN-K is not so dominant. "In fact, Myanmar is not very happy that we have entered into a ceasefire agreement with the government of India and not with them despite the fact that half the Nagas live there," Mr Zhimomi said. The NSCN-K chairman, Mr SS Khaplang, is himself form Myanmar. He said the Myanmar junta had sent feelers to the NSCN-K for a ceasefire but the organisation has rejected the offer because there is military rule in that country. "How can we resolve a problem with a military power," the leader said.

    He said a delegation of his government, including some ministers, had met Myanmarese officials some time ago and apprised them of the NSCN-K'S demand and the latter's "response was at least not negative as they acknowledged the existence of the Nagas."

    On future talks with the Centre, Mr Zhimomi said the NSCN-K was doing its homework. "We'll ask the people how they want the problem solved and we'll ask the people how they want the problem solved and we'll act accordingly." The NSCN-K will accept any settlement that the Centre may arrive at with the NSCN-IM, if such a solution is acceptable to the people. But will the NSCN-K agree if the Nagas in India war to remain in the country? "I have interacted with a lot of people and they, too, are pining for independence form India," Mr Zhimomi said.
    Corporations Feel Heat on Global Issues

    WASHINGTON, June 29 /PRNewswire/ -- Shareholders in record numbers want companies to adopt global labor standards to ensure fair, decent working conditions for overseas employees, according to an analysis of 2001 proxy votes by the Investor Responsibility Research Center.

    Resolutions asking companies to improve worker standards -- or adopt those set forth by the International Labor Organization -- were among the top vote-getters of 138 social policy shareholder proposals that came to votes during the just-concluded annual meeting season. The rise in support levels is consistent with support for other resolutions seeking non-discrimination in the workplace, IRRC found. Of the 27 proposals garnering support from 10 percent or more of shareholders, 15 addressed global labor standards or fair employment in the United States and Northern Ireland.

    The highest votes this year were at two companies with operations in Burma -- Unocal Corp. (23.3 percent support) and McDermott International (15.8 percent). The International Labor Organization and other rights monitoring groups have raised alarm about the extensive use of forced labor in Burma, also known as Myanmar, which is run by a military junta.

    "These votes reflect that a growing number of shareholders are sending management the message that they on't want their companies profiting at the expense of workers being discriminated against or ruthlessly exploited," said Meg Voorhes, Director of IRRC's Social Issues Service. IRRC is an independent firm based in Washington, D.C. that provides impartial research on social and corporate governance proxy voting issues to institutional investors.

    IRRC is the leading source of impartial, independent research on corporate governance, proxy voting and corporate responsibility issues. Founded in 1972, IRRC has more than 70 professional staff members providing research, analysis, software and consulting services to a wide range of clients, including institutional investors, corporations and law firms. IRRC offers guidance and advice on proxy voting, enabling clients to make informed, considered decisions that reflect their investment philosophies.
    Myanmar Airline Still Struggling with Bottom Line

    source : Burma Courier: June 30, 2001

    Based on news from Asia Pulse, MNA, Travel Asia, Travel Week: Updated to June 27

    RANGOON - With a leasing contract for its modest fleet of two Boeing 737-400s due to expire at the end of this month, Mayanmar Airways International has taken steps to downgrade its fleet to 737-300s.

    The move is in line with plans outlined by Prithpal Singh, MAI's chief operating officer, appointed when Region Airlines of Singapore bought a 49% stake in the cash-strapped Myanmar company last December. The Singapore company, whose primary business is the leasing, buying and selling of aircraft, is also effectively providing management services to MAI.

    Shortly after he took over in January, Singh told Travel Asia magazine writer Tim McIntryre the airline had no place to go but up.

    "Right now, things are quite frankly, directionless." Singh admitted. "There is no promotion, no advertising, no positive branding, nothing at all."Singh also had an interesting observation to make about the airline's staff of some 140-50 persons. He said that MAI staff were well educated but had become used to a culture where they simply acted on instructions. His aim, he said, was to get the company "up to speed, adopting a commercial attitude and thinking together."

    Over the past six months MAI has kept to its twice a day schedule between Rangoon and Bangkok, a daily flight to Singapore and a twice weekly run to Hong Kong. But with load factors for the Boeing 737-400s hovering at 55 to 60 percent and low aircraft utilization rates because of short runs, operations must still be far from meeting the company's bottom line requirements.

    The smaller 737-300s have a maximum seating capacity of 126 in contrast to the larger aircraft's 146 limit and will be more economical to operate. MAI would like to open up routes to India and Japan and tour packages out of Singapore.

    One of the new aircraft arrived in Rangoon this week from Jakarta where MAI has signed a long-term maintenance contract with the state-owned airline, Garuda Indonesia. A note in the official press said that Transport Minister Hla Myint Swe and his entourage had been out to the airport to kick the tires and make sure the weeds were cleared off the runway. Another 737-300 is headed to Indonesia next month for an overhaul.
    Myanmar Beats China 2-1 in Women's Sepak Takraw Friendly

    source : Peopledaily

    Myanmar Beat China 2-1 in their second women's sepak takraw friendly game at the National Indoor Stadium Sunday night in Yangon.

    The sepak takraw game is played in a best of three regus, with each regu contains three sets and the visiting Chinese team jumped to an early lead of 1-0 as they trounced the home side 15-7 and 15- 12 in the first regu. Myanmar team tied it at 1-1 after they took the second regu 15- 4, 8-15 and 6-1 and never looked back to win the deciding regu in 15-4 and 15-4.

    Sepak Takraw, a traditional sports in the south-east Asia, is a ball game played by two teams of three players each, with only their feet kicking, passing, setting, striking and blocking the sepak takraw and prevent it from falling on the ground.Each team has three players on the court which being divided into to halves by a net. The sport has many similarities like volleyball, badminton but players only are allowed to play with their feet.

    China beat the host side 2-1 in their first encounter at the National Indoor Stadium here Friday. It is the first time the Myanmar team, which has been preparing for the coming XXI Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, playing with a international game in the country during 10 years. The Myanmar team is aiming to get gold medal in the SEA Games slated on September 8 to 17 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

    In December 1998, Myanmar women's sepak takraw team won the gold at the XIII Asian Games in Bangkok, Thailand.The Chinese team is on a three-game tour with the host side and the third game will be on the same venue on next Tuesday.