Daily News-July 14 - 2001- Saturday

  • Burma's Currency Woes Continue
  • Myanmar seafarers continue to enjoy trust and confidence
  • Burma signs for surplus MiG-29s
  • Policy implications of regime's borrowing to buy MiGs
  • Special meeting discusses 15-year narcotics elimination plan
  • Rangoon arrests 346 people, exposes 234 drug-related cases in May
  • Burma ranks 118 in UN Human Development Report
  • IOM to move into Burma
  • Thailand offers reprieve to illegal Asian workers

  • Burma's Currency Woes Continue

    By Maung Maung Oo
    source : The Irrawaddy News Magazine

    July 13, 2001--The value of Burma's currency, the kyat, has recently plunged again despite the ruling military government's attempt to tightly control foreign currency traders and commodity brokers throughout the country, according to a business source in Rangoon.

    "Burmese currency will drop rapidly in the coming weeks according to my experiences," said a Burmese money-broker based in Thailand.

    The main cause of the currency's recent devaluation can be attributed to the regime revoking the foreign exchange licenses from all of the eighteen previous licensed changers. The government then issued foreign exchange licenses to only five private banks in Burma.

    This declaration has caused widespread rumors that claim the government has no hard currency reserves remaining. These rumors have led many individuals to again withdraw their money and invest it in real estate and other luxury items that maintain their value.

    The current rate of inflation in Burma also negates any gains that account holders would have otherwise made from interest rates at their perspective banks. In Burma, interest rates at private banks are much higher than the rates found at state-owned banks. The price of gold has been rising causing others to reinvest their money there, according to a business source in Mandalay, Burma's second largest city.

    "People are trying to buy land, real estate and as many items of value as possible after withdrawing their money from the banks. They have no more faith in the Burmese currency," said Ko Win Naing, a businessman involved in land selling and business brokering in Rangoon.

    The kyat was trading yesterday in Rangoon at 650 to one USD down from 590 last week. The kyat reached its lowest value ever trading at almost 1,000 kyat to the USD before two months ago, before the government stopped the slide by shutting down all moneychangers in Burma.

    The five newly licensed private banks are Kanbawza Bank, Myanmar Universal Bank, Myawaddy Bank, Asia Wealth Bank and the Cooperative Bank. The exchange rate in these five banks is 495 kyat to one USD. The government's official exchange rate, although unrecognized throughout the country, is 6.5 kyat to the USD.

    Ma Khin Aye, a well-known businesswoman involved in the money trading business in Burma, was recently arrested and imprisoned for 10 years under the 5J section of the Emergency Security Act. She was accused of hoarding commodites in order to drive up prices.

    Recently Aik Htun, the vice-chairman of the Asia Wealth Bank, the largest private bank in Burma, lashed out a rumor that his bank was facing a liquidation squeeze.
    Myanmar seafarers continue to enjoy trust and confidence of foreign shipowners and employers

    source : NLM

    Yangon, 12 July- Maritime Safety Committee of the International Maritime Organization confirmed that Myanmar was inducted into its IMO White List together with other 95 member nations at its 74th session held from 30 May to 8 June 2001.

    The International Maritime Organization (IMO), a United Nations Agency, empowered to promote safer ships and cleaner oceans promulgated its amendments to the Standards of Training, Certification and Watch-keeping (STCW) 1978 in 1995 and declared certain deadlines by which parties to the STCW convention would provide information that they had given full and complete effect to the provisions of the STCW' 95.

    The Ministry of Transport amended the Myanmar Merchant Shipping Act in 1999 and 2000. At the same time, Myanmar took necessary measures of IMO successfully on 7 March 2001 and attended the 74th session of Maritime Safety Committee held in May 2001.

    The Myanmar seafarer continues to enjoy the trust and confidence of foreign shipowners and employers while the Department of Marine Administration, in its unceasing efforts to maintain as well as upgrade the proficiency of these seafaring professionals through exacting training and examination procedures, have secured bilateral recognition of competency certificates from many countries, including most notably, the MCA (Maritime and Coastguard Agency) of the United Kingdom (UK).

    Out of 50,000 seafarers, about 40 per cent are serving on board various types of ocean-going vessels of different flags and registries. The Department of Marine Administration under the Ministry of Transport directly oversees the competency examination and certification of these seafarers.
    Burma signs for surplus MiG-29s

    July 11, 2001
    Jane's Defence Weekly:

    Moscow-The government of Myanmar (Burma) has signed a contract with the Russian Aircraft-building Corporation (RSK) MiG covering its acquisition of 10 MiG-29 fighter aircraft, comprising eight MiG-29Bs and two MiG-29UB trainers.

    To be drawn from a stock of about 70 aircraft assembled at RSK MIG's plants in the early 1990s and now stored at its Lukhovitsy machine- building plant, the MiG-29s have been acquired for a total of $130 million, said military-diplomatic sources. Around 30% of this sum will be paid initially, with the rest in instalments across the next decade.

    Myanmar will use its new aircraft, a delivery schedule for which has not been disclosed, to augment its fleet of around 42 Chengdu F-7M and Nanchang A-5C strike aircraft, operations of which started in 1991 and 1993, respectively.
    BurmaNet: Policy implications of regime's borrowing to buy MiGs

    July 13, 2001

    Reports first carried in the July 3 issue of TTU, a French intelligence newsletter and now in Jane's Defence Weekly indicate that Russia is extending credits of approximately $90 million to finance the purchase of ten MiG 29 fighters. The regime's acquisition these expensive and potent weapons will have regional and international policy implications.

    The acquisition appears to be a response to clashes earlier this year with Thailand's military after Burmese troops crossed the border to attack ethnic rebels. In those clashes, Thailand used its F-16 fighters drive home a message to Burmese troops about their almost total vulnerability to Thailand's air superiority. Thai F-16s staged low overflights of Burmese troop positions but did not open fire. The Burmese, lacking any aircraft remotely comparable to the F-16 withdrew and protested angrily claiming the Thai aircraft had fired on them.

    An immediate effect of Burma's procurement of the fighters will likely be a countermove by Thailand to seek delivery of sophisticated US air to air missiles. The F-16 fighter is roughly comparable to the MiG 29 and Thailand has purchased 32 of them from the United States.

    Of these, half were purchased in 1998 and configured to carry the AIM-30 advanced medium range air to air missile (AMRAAM), which are the most sophisticated air to air missiles in the US inventory. While the aircraft were configured to carry AMRAAMs, the Clinton administration resisted actually delivering them because of concerns that their introduction could cause regional instability and trigger an arms race.

    In essence, the US has told Thailand that they couldn't have AMRAAMS yet but that the missiles would be forthcoming if ever needed. Until now, Thailand's air force has outclassed anything its immediate neighbors have (with the arguable exception of friendly Malaysia). MiG 29s in Burma are likely to alarm Thailand's military which in turn will press the Bush administration to deliver AMRAAMs.

    Burma's purchase of high tech weapons capable of threatening Thailand also carries risks for the current Thai government. The $40 million downpayment was revealed in the same week that Burma received its initial share of royalties (approximately $100 million) from Thailand's state oil company for gas from the Yadana pipeline. Thailand's current foreign minister, Surakiat Sathirathai, as head of the exploration and production arm of the Thai state oil company, was largely responsible for the creation of the Yadana project. Burma now appears to be buying weapons to threaten Thailand in large part with revenues from the project Surakiert put together.

    A third area where the deal will have repercussions is in foreign aid and loan forgiveness. Burma is a heavily indebted poor country owing more than $6 billion and is seeking increased foreign aid and debt forgiveness. Burma is slated to receive approximately 3 billion yen ($30 million) in recently announced foreign aid from Japan in order to refurbish generators at the Lawpita hydroelectric plant, which is in addition to $150 million in interest payments that Japan forgives every year on $3 billion in previous loans.In taking on $90 million in new loans to buy weapons, the regime risks undermining its case for further foreign aid and loan write-offs.
    Special meeting discusses 15-year narcotics elimination plan

    BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom; Jul 13, 2001

    A special meeting of the Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control [CCDAC] was held at the Meeting Hall of the Ministry of Home Affairs at 1400 today. Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt, Secretary-1 of the State Peace and Development Council [SPDC], attended the meeting and delivered an address.

    Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt said: Myanmar [Burma] has been constantly laying down and implementing projects to eliminate narcotic drugs. Decrees were issued to eradicate the drugs during the time of Myanmar Kings while major military operations were launched to combat the drugs and destroy the poppy fields after the nation regained independence.

    The present government has made endeavours to organize the ethnic armed groups, including those from the poppy-growing areas of the border regions, to return to the legal fold and lay down plans for the progress of border areas and national races to eliminate narcotic drugs. In accord with the guidance of SPDC Chairman Sr Gen Than Shwe, the 15-year Narcotics Elimination Plan beginning from 1999-2000 has been laid down and is being implemented.

    A certain degree of success has been achieved at the end of the second year. Efforts are being made to organize the ethnic leaders and local people to participate in implementing the plan. The country is spending huge amounts of money to develop Mongla, Kokang, Wa, and Mongkoe regions and to cultivate poppy substitute crops and due to the participation of the ethnic leaders and the local populace, the task is achieving success...

    Myanmar alone will not be able to root out the drugs that are a scourge to mankind and all the countries with drug production and trafficking problems should also contribute to wipe out the plague. Although no assistance has been received from any nation or organization, Myanmar has been implementing the 15-year Narcotics Elimination Plan on a self-help basis until success is achieved. Therefore, the ministries concerned need to coordinate and fulfil the task from the respective sectors...

    SPDC Secretary-1 Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt in his closing speech said that compared with other nations Myanmar had few drug users because the Myanmar people were guided by religion, customs, and social ethics. The schools especially need to control and prevent drug addiction. Plans should be drawn and action taken against those who traffic in narcotic drugs and stimulant tablets through sea, air, and land routes, he said. Some big Western nations wrongly accused Myanmar of violating democracy and human rights and they are now making allegations on increasing drug addiction and AIDS cases. He added that the government was making all out efforts for the successful implementation of the 15-year Narcotics Elimination Plan and urged cooperation of the ministries concerned, various organizations, and officials in implementing the 15-year master plan and the local plans in Kokang, Wa, and Mongkoe regions. The meeting ended in the evening.
    Rangoon arrests 346 people, exposes 234 drug-related cases in May

    BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom; Jul 13, 2001

    Text of report in English by Burmese newspaper The New Light of Myanmar web site on 13 July

    Yangon [Rangoon], 12 July: The Tatmadaw, the Myanmar Police Force and the Customs Department exposed 234 drug-related cases in May, 2001. The authorities seized 27.3129 kilos of opium in 35 cases, 2.2519 kilos of heroin in 75 cases, 0.1661 kilo of opium oil in three cases, 0.3555 kilo of low grade opium in six cases, 48.8653 kilos of marijuana in 21 cases, 227.58 litres of Phensedyl in five cases, 2,058,038 stimulant tablets in 56 cases, 200 kilos of ephedrine in one case, 518.0038 kilos of stimulant powder in one case, 2.3 litres of cough syrup in one case, 1,136.5 litres of Acetic Anhydride in one case, 254.576 litres of chemical liquid in one case, 0.25 kilo of chemical powder, 24 cases for failure [to register as drug users], and four other [drug-related] cases. Action was taken against 346 people - 274 men and 72 women - in connection with the cases in May.
    Burma ranks 118 in UN Human Development Report

    July 12, 1001 Mizzima News Group (www.mizzima.com)

    Burma has moved up from low human development to medium human development in four years and ranked at 118th on the Human Development Index of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) out of 162 countries.

    The Index, which measures the overall achievements of a country in three basic dimensions of human development, is based on longevity, educational attainment and ability to buy basic goods and services.

    Burma, which is near the bottom of the Medium Human Development, is above some of its Asian partners. Pakistan, Nepal and Bhutan, which fall in the low human development category, are slotted at 127, 129 and 130 respectively. However, Burma is far below that of other South East Asian countries. Thailand is ranked at 66, Malaysia at 56, Philippines at 70, Indonesia at 102 and Viet Nam at 101.

    Norway leads the 162 countries on the index while Sierra Leone languishes at the bottom of the index. It is a jump-up for Burma, which was ranked 131 out of 175 countries and fell in the category of "low human development" by the HDR report in1997.

    In the Human Poverty Index, Burma is ranked at 43 while Thailand at 21. Burma has Adult literacy rate of 84.4% while India has 56.5% and Bangladesh 40.8%.

    The Human Development report 2001 "Making New Technologies Work for Human Development", released worldwide last Tuesday argues that new technologies are a key to reducing world poverty and refutes the view that technology is primarily a luxury for people in rich countries. "Technology is like education - it enables people to lift themselves out of poverty. Thus technology is a tool for, not just a reward of, growth and development". However it cautions that developing countries should not simply import and apply knowledge from outside just by acquiring equipment, seeds and pills.

    "Not every country needs to develop cutting-edge technologies, but every country needs domestic capacity to identify technology's potential benefits and to adapt new technology to its needs and constraints." However, Burma is no-where in the Technological Achievement Index, which focus on "how well the country as a whole is participating in creating and using technology". In the report, there are four categories of the technological achievement index such as Leaders, Potential Leaders, Dynamic Adopters and Marginalized. Burma is not in any of the categories, placing as "no data available" while its neighbor Thailand is in the category of Dynamic Adopters and Malaysia is in the category of Potential Leaders.

    Although the telephone has been around for more than a hundred years, Burma has 6 telephones (mainland and cellular) per 1,000 people while Thailand has 124 telephones per 1,000 people and Nepal has 12 telephones per 1,000 people, according to the report.

    The military-run Burma restricts its citizens from accessing foreign television networks. Internet services are not available to the citizens. The people need prior permission to own fax machine and the exorbitant charges are levied on fax transmissions. However, Myanma Posts and telecommunications, which is a sole provider of telecommunication services in the whole country, claimed that it intended to have the telephone density of the country as 12 per 1,000 inhabitants at the end of March 2000 and the number of telephones as 650,000. It said it is now operating Internet E-mail service initially with 160 leased line users and 1,540 dial up users in the Capital.Cellular Mobile Telephone system was first started in 1993 in Burma.
    IOM to move into Burma

    source : The Nation

    Projects now conducted in Samut Sakhon, Ranong, Tak to be relocated

    In its first step toward taking a more active role in the country, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) will establish a field presence on Burmese soil to deal with health issues related to cross-border migration, IOM Director General Brunson McKinley said recently.

    Speaking on his return from a two-day official visit to Rangoon on Thursday, McKinley said the IOM would initially relocate to Burma projects that are being carried out in co-operation with the Thai government. The Geneva-based agency currently operates projects in Samut Sakhon, Ranong and Tak.

    McKinley said he held talks during his July 10-11 trip with State Peace and Development Council Secretary Lt Gen Khin Nyunt, as well as officials from related government agencies. He said the Burmese authorities had been receptive to the role of the IOM.He said discussions with Rangoon did not focus solely on Thai-Burmese relations, but covered a range of migration issues from the Burmese perspective. Rangoon officials also "believe the IOM can help" end their isolation from the international community, he added.

    McKinley said many international bodies have detected a more cooperative atmosphere in Rangoon, but added that the IOM would give its attention to human trafficking and health issues.Rangoon was concerned about the spread of HIV/Aids in Burma and requested assistance in addressing this issue, McKinley said, adding that migrants were one of the groups most vulnerable. Any projects to tackle the spread of HIV/Aids that are introduced in border areas would also benefit neighbouring countries, he added.

    McKinley said he did not discuss in detail the issue of safe areas for repatriated Burmese refugees with Rangoon officials, who said an understanding with Bangkok would be a prerequisite to any IOM assistance in this regard. "It is still one of the possibilities on the table," he said.

    Bangkok recently proposed that self-subsistent communities for returnees be established with the help of the IOM and multinational corporations with interests inside Burma. The UN High Commission for Refugees has also floated a similar idea.

    IOM officials will be dispatched to Burma soon, initially to get the health-related projects off the ground, McKinley said, adding that the planned schemes were "not huge, but not insignificant" and that he was confident the necessary funding would be secured.McKinley said he had urged Burma to apply for observer status to the IOM, adding that the organisation would not set any preconditions for Rangoon's entry.

    "The role of the IOM is not to talk about politics or human rights issues," he said, quickly adding that the body does advocate the improvement of human-rights protection, especially for migrants.McKinley said the IMO could not afford the luxury of dealing only with democratic governments because of the need to address problems relating to migration.

    He conceded that there has been a mixed reaction to the role of the IOM from the diplomatic corps in Bangkok, saying some countries had welcomed the move, while others questioned whether Rangoon had done enough itself to warrant such assistance.
    Thailand offers reprieve to illegal Asian workers

    BANGKOK, Thailand (AP)--After trying unsuccessfully to expel hundreds of thousands of laborers from neighboring countries, Thailand Friday agreed to allow official registration of more than one million illegal immigrants,officials said.

    The immigrants, mostly from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, have been working without permits in fishing, construction and agriculture since 1992, when the government opened certain sectors to a small number of migrants.

    This sparked an influx--some 80 percent of the immigrants entering from Myanmar--and created social and security problems for Thailand. When the Asian economic crisis hit Thailand in 1997 and the need for cheap labor dried up, the government attempted mass repatriation.

    "We rounded up and pushed back more than 460,000 illegal workers, mostly from Myanmar, during the past three years but most of them returned," an official of the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, Jirawat Chanprasert, told reporters. He said the crackdown also spawned labor smuggling rackets. "Accepting reality, the ministry decided to legalize those immigrants and set rules to control them systematically and to prevent employers from exploiting them," Jirawat said.

    The ministry will allow employers to register their foreign workers and enroll them in a social welfare program under which they will receive the legal minimum wage, housing and medical care. The ministry set an Aug. 31 deadline for the registration. "From now on there will be no cat and mouse game, and the repatriation plan will be put on hold," Jirawat said, referring to border officials trying to prevent expelled laborers from sneaking back into the country. He said that Thailand would discuss with neighboring countries measures to deal with the labor problem.

    Thailand enjoys a far more prosperous economy than Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar, also known as Burma. The three nations are among the world's poorest.