Daily News-July 11 - 2001- Wednesday

  • US legislation threatens Burma talks with opposition
  • Burma Faces Dual Blow From U.S. Proposed Ban
  • BURMA'S matyrs await democracy
  • Judge allows Suu Kyi's brother to amend property lawsuit
  • Prescott pressed on drugs
  • Canadian Burma Activist Passed Away
  • Mental Health Problem Noted In Border Areas
  • Government has Built 1,069.79 Miles of New Railroads in Nation
  • Myanmar's Population Reaches 52 Mln

  • US legislation threatens Burma talks with opposition

    source : Channel News Asia

    Delicate negotiations between the Myanmar government and the opposition could be derailed by a proposed US legislation.

    The Burma Freedom Act was introduced in the House of Representatives in June and is expected to be debated in October.The US does not recognise Myanmar.

    According to US lawmakers, the measure is to discourage alleged forced labor and other human-rights abuses in Myanmar.Once enacted it calls for a total ban on imports from Myanmar within 15 days.

    Diplomats in Yangon say the timing of the congressional action could affect secret discussions between opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the military authorities.The talks, which began in October, are back on track after stalling for months.
    Burma Faces Dual Blow From U.S. Proposed Ban

    July 9, 2001

    Proposed U.S. legislation to ban all imports from Myanmar is damaging the country's booming garment industry and threatening to unsettle nine months of delicate negotiations between the Myanmar government and the opposition.

    International garment buyers began ordering from alternative sources in Asia, including Cambodia and Vietnam, immediately after the unveiling of the bipartisan "Burma Freedom Act," which was introduced in the U.S. Senate in May and the House of Representatives in June. Even before the bill is debated, which isn't expected until at least October, buyers are taking precautions to ensure garment supplies, since the law would prohibit, within 15 days of enactment, the import of any article produced, manufactured or grown in Myanmar.

    U.S. lawmakers proposed the measure to discourage alleged forced labor and other human-rights abuses in Myanmar, previously called Burma, though critics see it as protectionist and contrary to World Trade Organization rules. While Myanmar-made garments account for a tiny percentage of the U.S.'s overall garment imports, a downturn in trade would deal a substantial blow to Myanmar's economy, where the garment industry is the second-largest employer, after the government.

    Aung Win, vice chairman of the Myanmar Garment Manufacturing Association, said orders from the U.S., which usually takes an estimated 65% of exports, have dwindled sharply in the past six weeks. About half of the 400 garment factories around the capital of Yangon will close by the middle of this month, he said, putting more than 100,000 people out of work.

    Although data are difficult to obtain, U.S. officials recently revised their figures upward and estimate that garment imports from Myanmar soared to $454 million last year from $168 million in 1999, and have continued to climb this year. Mr. Aung Win -- the owner of six knitwear and woven-jacket factories, making him the largest private producer in Myanmar -- said he and other manufacturers are scrambling to find additional outlets in Europe, but that the market is small. Over the next two months, he estimates, some three-quarters of the country's industry will close. "Only 20% to 25% of factories will survive," he said.

    Diplomats in Yangon describe the timing of the congressional action as politically harmful. It comes amid signs that the secret discussions between opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the military authorities, which began in October, are back on track after stalling for months. Since the visit last month of United Nations envoy Razali Ismail, the government has resumed releasing political prisoners in small numbers and has given approval for Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy to reopen 18 party offices near the capital.

    Government officials are annoyed that what they regard as a new campaign against Myanmar should be mounted while the talks continue. The two sides are hoping to end the political stalemate that began when the military refused to recognize the National League for Democracy's overwhelming victory in a 1990 election. In addition to a range of existing aid and trade sanctions, the fresh antigovernment campaign also includes a threat by the international trade-union movement to expose companies trading with or investing in Myanmar, while activists in Europe pressure investors in funds and companies to stop doing business with Myanmar.

    A Myanmar government spokesman, Lt. Col. Hla Min, questioned the motive of U.S. politicians in sponsoring the import-ban legislation, and warned that the reconciliation process cannot be "steamrollered." He said the bill could create "misunderstanding" between the two sides and even "derail the development that has taken place in recent weeks." Western diplomats agree that the congressional proposal could strain the negotiations, though they doubt it will cause the talks to collapse.

    In contrast to the private groups trying to force Myanmar to make political concessions, most governments currently are exercising restraint until they see whether Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi can reach a settlement with the ruling State Peace and Development Council. Under the influence of government members, the International Labor Organization, which last year found Myanmar guilty of practicing forced labor, has agreed to send a high-level team to the country in September to assess the situation before considering the next move in November. But trade-union members of the ILO are taking advantage of its finding to try to further isolate Yangon, using as ammunition the rapid increase in U.S. purchases of Myanmar apparel. While most high-profile American retailers and designers have long abandoned selling Myanmar-made goods after being targeted by human-rights groups, smaller companies continue selling the apparel in the U.S. They usually obtain the clothing indirectly, mainly through traders from Taiwan.

    "It is outrageous that many brand-name U.S. apparel companies ... are making more and more of their clothes in the Burmese gulag," said Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa) when introducing the legislation on May 22. One of three companies named by Sen. Harkin subsequently informed suppliers that it would discontinue placing orders in Myanmar, starting with the "spring-summer 2002 season," according to Joe Pang, the chief executive of a Hong Kong-based garment maker.

    "I would like to make it very clear that this decision wasn't the result of your delivery or quality performance, but rather due to political pressures from our shareholders," an executive at the company said in a message to Mr. Pang.
    BURMA'S matyrs await democracy

    (The Australian, Sydney)

    In nine days, Burma will celebrate Martyrs Day. The holiday commemorates the assassination of Aung San Suu Kyi's father, independence leader Gen. Aung San.

    So will Ms. Suu Kyi walk free on Martyrs Day, with two fellow detainees, to declare a power-sharing deal with the junta and set Burma back on the path to democracy?

    She is always allowed to celebrate Martyrs Day, but many remain skeptical about any deals and the junta is playing down expectations. But the mood has changed quickly.

    Only a year ago, Australian ambassador to Burma Trevor Wilson was bemoaning that ''all the indicators point to the regime being determined to remain in power at all costs.''

    But the junta instigated talks with Ms. Suu Kyi last October. In March, Burmese military leader Than Shwe said the talks were going well. Since then, there have been more meetings, the release of scores of Suu Kyi supporters and more hints at compromise. Reports suggest Ms. Suu Kyi will accept that she play no active role in the government. The key would be to get Ms. Suu Kyi's party involved in drafting a constitution.

    Anyone who expects democracy to appear out of nothing is naive. The framework will include a role for the military -- more so than many would want. No one could hope to mold national unity from regional conflict without some central control. The key is to include all groups.

    The junta's shift may well be window-dressing, but it may not. The economy is in deep trouble. The value of the leadership's assets is sinking as quickly as the kyat. They know only investment and trade can unshackle Burma's huge economic reserves. Foreign bans on economic contact will stay until they produce evidence of compromise.

    The man credited with steering the junta along this path, U.N. envoy Razali Ismail, is a friend of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. He recognizes Burma's economic imperative and the need for face-saving. Mr Razali is due to return to Rangoon soon, and the symbolism of Martyrs Day cannot be overstated.

    But concluding what Aung San started in the 1940s and his daughter continued in the 80s is not that simple. As Ms Suu Kyi said in 1999, ''Sometimes change comes with a lot of fireworks...but not always.''
    Judge allows Suu Kyi's brother to amend property lawsuit

    YANGON, Myanmar (AP) _ A judge decided Monday to allow an amendment to a case filed against the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi for partial ownership of the property where she has lived for the past 13 years.

    Soe Thein, the Yangon Division Court judge, permitted the lawyer of Suu Kyi's elder brother Aung San Oo to file for an ``entitled share of the property.''

    Aung San Oo, an American citizen, had earlier sought ``half'' of the 2-acre (0.8 hectare) Yangon property and lakeside villa where Suu Kyi stays. The case was adjourned until July 23 when the amended case will be filed to the court. The ruling did not appear to change significantly the nature of the legal case filed against Suu Kyi. Although he had earlier objected to the amendment, Suu Kyi's lawyer Kyi Win said he wasn't surprised at the judge's decision as it had referred to a legal precedent.

    The property was given by the government to Suu Kyi's mother Khin Kyi, widow of independence hero General Aung San, who was assassinated in 1947. Khin Kyi died in December 1988. Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her democracy struggle, has been confined to that house since Sept. 22 after defying a travel ban imposed by the Myanmar military regime. Her party won general elections in 1990 but was barred from taking power.

    Neither Suu Kyi nor her brother, who lives in the United States, were present in court Monday.Lawyer Kyi Win said he had last seen Suu Kyi on June 14 and he said she was well. Under Myanmar's Buddhist law, an inherited property should be equally divided among the siblings. But another law forbids foreigners from purchasing or selling property.

    A previous suit filed by Aung San Oo for partition of the property was dismissed in January on grounds he had filed the case on the wrong form.
    Prescott pressed on drugs

    source : The Nation

    Thailand yesterday requested Britain to separate the issue of narcotics from that of Burma so as to effectively tackle the problem, which is regional in scope.

    The message was conveyed by Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai to the visiting British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott during their luncheon discussion yesterday at the Foreign Ministry.Surakiart said that he understood the firm British policy on the imposition of sanctions on Burma because of its record on human rights and democracy. However, he said such a policy should not hinder the efforts to comprehensively tackle the drug scourge plaguing the region.

    Surakiart urged Prescott to treat drugs and Burma as separate issues and said that London should assist in the joint effort to address the problem. If not, he said that Britain could end up being an end user [of the Burmese-produced drugs] itself, he said.Surakiart said Prescott personally concurred with the proposal and agreed to discuss the matter with Britain's Foreign Minister Jack Straw. Prescott was also very interested in the upcoming four-country drug summit in Kunming involving Thailand, Burma, Laos and China.

    At present, Britain along with its European Union allies is sticking to stringent punitive measures against the military regime in Rangoon. Hence, every kind of assistance, except on humanitarian grounds, is prohibited.The European private sector has alsobeen discouraged in investing in Burma.
    Canadian Burma Activist Passed Away

    By Tin Maung Htoo (Canada) Burma Media Association July 9, 2001

    A final farewell, but what a friend says is "too young to go," grieved all Vancouver-based Burma activists, as well as closed friends and love once attending the past weekend memorial service for Mrs. Louise Lamontagne, who had passed away last week at the age of 53.

    Mr. Alan Clements, a well known author of "Voice of Burma", a Buddhist devotee and a friend of Mrs. Louise for more than twenty years, was quoted as saying in the event that she found great inspiration in Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's words about courage -- "courage to see the truth, courage to feel the truth, courage to act the truth."

    Led by Mr. Alan Clements, the memorial service was taken place on Saturday in a Vancouver's Unitarian Church filled with over 300 of friends, colleagues and love once. Mr. Eric Snider, who closely worked with her for a free Burma campaign in Canada, recalled his memory, "she bought up a few shares in Ivanhoe and went to several company meetings with me. The last time was in the middle of June, when she had already wasted away too much." Mr. Snider referred to the event while the Ivanhoe shareholders meeting was taking place last month in Vancouver at the time she was already ill.

    But he said, "it was great for her to be able to sit outside for a few moments, after the (shareholders) meeting, with some of the 40-50 demonstrators who showed up and to realize that the small beginnings we made in 1998 were beginning to have an impact."

    For the Free Burma Movement, this is the second to lose the most two devoted activists and veterans within a month. An American activist Don Erickson, who is a teacher and a leading campaigner for free Burma, also passed away on June 3 at the age of 75 in his native city Chicago. Friends and colleagues also observed a memorial service for him in honor of his devotion and endeavor for free Burma.
    Mental Health Problem Noted In Border Areas

    By Zarny Win
    source : The Irrawaddy News Magazine

    July 10, 2001--Mental health problems are rising at an alarming rate among thousands of Burmese living along the Thai-Burma border, according to physicians from the Burma Medical Association (BMA).

    The BMA recently met for a four-day conference in the Thai/Burma border town of Mae Sot to discuss current health risks plaguing the growing Burmese population along the border.

    "We are focusing on mental health problems among the Burmese who have been living in the difficult conditions along the border," BMA President Dr Cynthia Maung told reporters.Dr. Cynthia Maung said that orphans and war refugees are the ones who suffer the greatest as they feel they have no future or safety by having to live as an illegal immigrant in Thailand. Also due to the continued fighting in the ethnic states many have lost their homes.As a result there has been an increase in cases of depression as well as other stress-related problems.

    "Young girls cannot stay with their parents - families are broken apart - some women have been raped (while working in Thailand) and the abuse of drugs is also on the rise," said Dr Cynthia Maung. She said that many facing economic hardships have turned to drugs to cope with their problems.

    As the BMA's four-day conference wrapped up last week in Thailand, Burmese physicians currently living in India, Thailand and other western countries pledged to cooperate with the World Health Organization (WHO) as well as with local Thai health professionals and authorities to fight the spread of communicable diseases, tuberculosis, HIV/Aids and malaria.

    Last June the WHO ranked Burma second from the bottom in its annual World Health Report, which assesses the quality of health care found in all 192 nations in the world. Burma placed just above war-torn Sierra Leone to round out the list. It is estimated that there are over one-million Burmese currently living and working illegally in Thailand. Because of this illegal status they do not have access to proper medical care. Many of these individuals are also poorly educated about public health, commented Burmese physicians at the BMA conference.

    Dr Cynthia Maung, recipient of several international awards including the Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights, operates a clinic in Mae Sot where a limited number of illegal immigrants are able to receive medical care.

    There are also over 100,000 Burmese ethnic refugees living in refugee encampments along the border. Access to medical care is provided by a variety of NGO's in these areas but many still face mental health problems as a result of living in a country where they do not feel welcome.

    During the conference Burmese physicians also released a statement criticizing the current political state in Burma:

    "For more than 50 years, Burma and all its people have never been able to enjoy a decent life with dignity, because of severe political oppression and continued civil strife in the country, especially along the border areas where ethnic communities struggle for their survival and existence", the BMA statement said.
    Government has Built 1,069.79 Miles of New Railroads in Nation

    Information Sheet N0. B-1882 ( I ) 10th July, 200

    Secretary-1 of the State Peace and Development Council Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt met with officials of Ministry of Rail Transportation at the Ministry on 9 July. The Secretary-1 emphasized the fact that based on the rich natural resources and the forces of the national people and the economic infrastructures, the national plans which will bring practical progress to the nation, have been laid down and implemented.

    At present the entire nation is witnessing progress due to the new river bridges, roads and railroads. As 1,065.79 miles of new railroads have been built in the nation, the country now has a total of 3,859.65 miles of railroads up from 2,973.86 miles in the past. Shwenyaung-Taunggyi-Banyi-Hsaikkhaung railroad and Mongnai-Namhsan railroad have been built in Shan State. Hsaikkhaung-Namhsan railroad section is being built at present to link it with Shwenyaung-Namhsan-Mongnai railroad. Aungban-Pinlaung-Loikaw railroad linking Shan State and Kayah State.Ye-Yebyu Dawei railroads in Taninthayi and Aunglan-Hsatthwa railroad in the midland have been built.

    The Yoma belt railroad emerged as the Pyay-Aunglan-Hsantthwa railroad has been linked with the existing Hsatthwa-Taungdwingyi-Kyaukpadaung. Kyaukpadaung-Bagan-Myingyan-TadaU railroad has been built. Except the section passing the Pondaung-Ponnya mountain range, trains are running on all the sections of the ChaungU-Pakokku-Gangaw-Kalay railroad. The tunnel passing the Pondaung-Ponnya mountain range and the Yemyetni-Kyaw Tunnel bypass railroad are being built with greater momentum.

    There are now 9,009 large and small railroad bridges in the nation up from 5,650 in the past. In the past, there were only two river railroad bridges, the Sagaing Bridge and the Sittoung Bridge. Seven new river bridges including Thanlyin Bridge, Myittha River Bridge, Hsinbyushin Bridge, Bwetkyi Bridge, Mu River Bridge those lengths are between 500 feet and nearly 6,000 feet.

    Construction of Donthami Bridge linking Mon and Kayin States and the 11,575-foot Thanlwin (Mawlamyine) Bridge, which will become the longest bridge in Myanmar, is under way. The Government has built over 250 new railway stations; the nation now has 739 railway stations.

    The Yangon Railway Station was upgraded and the new international level Mandalay Railway Station was built. The Ministry of Rail Transportation is gaining success in fulfilling the national and region needs. Especially new railway lines have been opened. The ministry transported a total of 3.55 million tons of freight which is a new record in the post-independent era.
    Myanmar's Population Reaches 52 Mln

    YANGON, July 9 (Xinhuanet) -- Myanmar's population has reached 52 million with half of them as women, according to the Myanmar Ministry of Immigration and Population Monday. The country's population grows at 2.2 percent and its population density is 74 inhabitants per square kilometer, the sources said, adding that Myanmar is sparsely populated and still has enough space for the growing population compared to neighboring countries.

    The Myanmar government is making efforts for food sufficiency not only for the present 52-million population but also for the 100 million' in the future by extending the cultivated areas, per- hectare yield, cultivation of double or triple crops and application of modern cultivation technique as well as increased investment in the sector and exemption of import duties of agricultural implements such as fertilizer, pesticide, machinery and improved variety.

    Out of 18.225 million hectares of cultivable land in Myanmar, 10.4085 million hectares have been utilized with 7.8165 million hectares remaining to be reclaimed. According to official statistics, Myanmar annually produced 18. 97 million tons of paddy and exported 81,200 tons of rice in the last four fiscal years.