Daily News-July 17 - 2001- Tuesday

  • Burmese opportunity
  • US arms sale to Thailand seen as tit-for-tat with Burma
  • Student Conference Rows over Economic Sanction
  • Junta Fixes Exchange Rate for FEC
  • Junta blacklists foreign correspondent
  • Yangon's little 'electric fishermen'
  • China, Burma sign memorandum on geology, mineral resources cooperation
  • Thai boost Border patrol after big drug bust

  • Burmese opportunity


    SECRETARY of State Colin Powell prepares to attend the Ministerial Meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations later this month in Hanoi, he would do well to follow the advice offered to him in a letter signed by 36 US senators. The letter urged Powell to ''reaffirm US commitment to democracy and human rights in Burma.''

    This is not merely an idealistic stance that sounds good in a press release. Burma's military dictatorship is a major exporter of heroin, refugees, cross-border warfare, HIV/AIDS infections, and strategic threats to neighbors.

    If Powell fails to place America four-square on the side of the oppressed people of Burma and of that country's anxious neighbors, he will inevitably raise doubts about Washington's reliability as a defender of stable development and the rule of law.

    The junta thwarts the will of citizens who voted overwhelmingly in 1990 for the National League for Democracy, the political party of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. The generals have transformed what was a prosperous, highly literate country into an impoverished society intimidated by government informants.

    The senators' letter, co-sponsored by Democrats Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Tom Harkin of Iowa as well as Republicans Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Jesse Helms of North Carolina, asks that Powell in Hanoi ''address the production and transshipment of illicit drugs from Burma, including heroin and methamphetamines.''

    The wisdom of the senators' counsel ought to be evident. The regime of the generals running Burma has become a fountain spouting many of the transnational ills that haunt the contemporary world. The letter calls on Powell to raise the issue of hundreds of thousands of people from Burma who were forced to flee the depradations of the junta and seek refuge in Bangladesh or Thailand. The senators also ''respectfully request'' that Powell bring up ''the twin evils of child and forced labor,'' suggesting that as a career soldier he must be particularly sensitive to the horror of Burma's ''estimated 50,000 child soldiers, the highest number in the world.''

    Another ominous aspect of the junta's rule not mentioned in the senators' letter is the extent to which the military has made Burma a client state of Beijing. Not only does the junta spend obscene sums buying arms from China. It has also caused considerable concern in India by making Burma a platform for the projection of Chinese power in Asia.

    Powell should seize the opportunity he will have in Hanoi to prod ASEAN countries to demand that the junta release imprisoned members of the National League for Democracy and conclude the current talks with Suu Kyi by permitting a revival of Burmese democracy.
    US arms sale to Thailand seen as tit-for-tat with Burma

    source : The Nation

    The US Senate has approved the sale of air-to-air AIM-30 missiles to Thailand in what is believed to be a reaction to Rangoon's plan to purchase a squadron of Russian MiG-29 supersonic warplanes, informed sources within the Royal Thai Air Force said.

    The weapons, known as advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles (Amraam) will be equipped on F-16 jet fighters currently used in the Royal Thai Air Force, making Thailand the first country in the region to acquire the weapon.

    Earlier, the US was adamantly opposed to a Thai request to buy 60 to 70 rounds of these sophisticated weapons, for fear their acquisition would stimulate an arms build-up in the region, the sources said. The decision was reversed last year but the Thai army asked to postpone the sale until it was financially ready.The sale, however, needed congressional approval and guarantees the weapon would not be used against the US but would be kept in the US for safety reasons. It could be delivered to Thailand when needed within 48 hours. The sources said the Congress finally approved the sale but did not say when the decision took place.

    According to the sources, it is possible that the US sees Burma's MiG-29 purchasing plan as tilting the equilibrium of the regional arms structure and could cause an arms race within the region.

    Senator Mitchell McConnell told the US Congress last week, quoting Jane's Defence Weekly, that Rangoon has struck a deal with Russia to buy 10 MiG-29s to increase its air defence capability.Before the deal, Burma relied on 42 Chengdu F-7M and Nanchang A-5C aircraft from China.McConnell also said Thailand and the US should be concerned about the move, which he said has the potential to destabilise Southeast Asia.

    The Burmese-Russian deal was struck shortly after Thailand and Burma's border friction worsened, mainly due to a Thai accusation that Rangoon was turning a blind eye on the drug trade by its ethnic ally of Wa rebels.At the peak of the crisis, the Thai air force dispatched an F-16 jet fighter to perform a sonic boom near the Wa-controlled areas, adjacent to the Thai Northern border, prompting a protest by Rangoon.

    Thai military and arms experts, however, downplayed the regional tension and the arms build-up the Burmese arms purchasing plan may cause, saying the country should wait and see how Rangoon intends to use these warplanes.The Royal Thai Air Force's secretary Air Vice Marshal Prapas Jiamchawee said the airforce was cross-checking the Jane's report, saying that although the purchasing plan is on, the acquisition could take time.According to a senior air force officer, both the MiG-29 and the F-16 have strong and weak points, although in theory the F-16 contains more sophisticated technology than the MiG-29.

    Defence Analyst Prof Panitan Wattanayagorn said the Burmese plan is worrisome but not unexpected.Panitan said that regional countries have been warning for some time of a new arms proliferation within Southeast Asia that would include missiles, submarines and warships. "It is worrisome because it's happening at a time the region is plagued with political and territorial conflicts," he said. Panitan, however, downplayed the threat of the MiG-29, saying that any danger would depend on the Burmese army's capability and preparedness to use the aircraft.

    Singapore has 20 F-16s, the most advanced version of this class in the region.Thailand has 32 older models of the F-16 and has approved a plan to buy two squadrons of used F-16 jet fighters (currently used in Israel) from the US Army.Malaysia is the only country in the region to have obtained F-16 jet fighters, MiG-29s and F-18 fighter-bombers at the same time.

    Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry's deputy spokesman, Ison Pocmontri, urged Jane's to provide evidence of its claim that money Rangoon used to buy the MiG-29 was with profits obtained from gas sales to Thailand.He also denied reports that Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai helped the Petroleum Authority of Thailand cut the gas deal with Burma.He said that Surakiart was president of PTT's exploration and production arm after the deal was cut.
    Student Conference Rows over Economic Sanction

    By Tin Maung Htoo (Canada) Burma Media Association July 16, 2001

    At the third conference of Burmese Students' Democratic Organization (Canada) the agenda of whether to keep up with 'economic sanction' towards Burma was heat up with no consensus over the following weekend in Toronto, Canada.

    The conference initially intended to hold with 18 student delegates representing all over the country was ended up with two-third of them, and the others, mostly from West Coast and prairies provinces, could not reach to Toronto in terms of distance travelling. However, those who could not attend the conference sent out their goodwill messages, stands and future plans.

    A representative of Canadian Friends of Burma, the main Canadian's Burma supports group, also attended the conference and proposed some coordination plans for effective free Burma movement. Among student reps whether to endorse the previous decision of supporting the economic sanction toward Burma became the core topic as well as a controversial one, considering pros and cons of its effect. Some reps asserted that economic sanction affects the livelihood of the already poor Burmese people that tends to derail their adopted objective of prospering the country and the people. But other reps insisted that there is no choice but to keep up with this drive in order to reach the foremost objective of restoring Democracy and Human Rights in Burma.

    The main ideology difference is that anti-sanction group does not believe in what is happening in Burma is not the effect of international pressure but the timing and softening stand of military leaders. However, pro-sanction group regards any pressure forwarded to military are the main factor to change their stands, attitudes and behavior.

    There are, however, intermediate group came up with the stand that it's a crucial time for Burma, and any harsh pressure should be avoided as it could affect the ongoing effort of reconciliation process in Burma. The heating debate at the student conference coincided with the recent anti-sanction rally in Rangoon where thousands of garment industry workers staged a protest against the latest bill S-926 pending in U.S that will bans garment export from Burma.

    If it came into effect, it is reported that 300,000 of labors working in 400 factories will be affected. At the end of the conference, the leading body for the third term was elected to take measure of appropriate actions, along with other organizational activities.
    Junta Fixes Exchange Rate for FEC

    By Maung Maung Oo
    source : The Irrawaddy

    July 16, 2001--The Burmese government ordered all licensed moneychangers to reduce the buying-and-selling price of the Foreign Exchange Certificate (FEC) to 450-460 kyat from 490-500 kyat, according to members of Rangoon's business community.

    The announcement came on July 1st, and is seen as an attempt by the ruling military government to control the high rate of inflation in Burma. One FEC is officially worth one US dollar.

    Many observers pointed out that this was the first time the regime had ever officially capped the exchange rate of the FEC. The government has pegged the official exchange for the kyat at 6.5 to the dollar. By fixing a rate for the FEC, the regime has effectively set two official exchange rates that are astronomically different.

    A new restriction on buying FECs has also been imposed. The purchaser must give an acceptable reason as to why they need the currency certificate. FECs are not accepted at most places in Burma. Acceptable reasons may include tuition payments for international schools or the purchase of certain luxury items priced in FECs. Individuals wanting to sell the certificates need not provide a reason for the sale.

    Burma’s Central Bank, in conjunction with the government, last week allowed Wazeya Trading Co, Ltd to become the sixth licensed moneychanger in Burma. Wazeya is the mother company of Inn Wa Bank, which is also a licensed moneychanger. Last month the Burmese government revoked the licenses of all eighteen previously licensed moneychangers. It then issued new licenses to just five private banks.

    Many economists based in Thailand feel the Burmese regime is facing a serious hard currency crisis and is trying to do anything it can to control the problem. Burma faced the worst inflation in its history two months ago when one US dollar was worth almost 1000 kyat on the black market. Since then, the military government has desperately tried to control currency trading inside Burma and has issued other new restrictions on import-export businesses as well. The kyat is currently trading at 520 to one FEC on the black market.
    Junta blacklists foreign correspondent

    Mae Sod, July 16
    Network Media Group

    A foreign correspondent who produced a video documentary which was aired on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation was recently blacklisted by the Burmese Junta.

    The Junta gave instructions to all immigration officers that Evan Williams, who sent the documentary to ABC's current affair program, was blacklisted and that he could not be approved any kind of visa to enter Burma.

    The Australian Broadcasting Corporation's current affair program aired the documentary reported by "foreign correspondent" reporter Evan Williams on the Burmese Junta's involvement in Drug production and trafficking on the evening of June 19.

    Evan Williams's report stated that a huge amount of methamphetamine pills was captured at the Junta's military base, which was raided by the Shan State Army, which is currently fighting an independence war with the Junta.

    Evan Williams traveled to the Thai-Burma border with Professor Des Ball from the Australian National University's Strategic and Defense Study Center in June 2001 to produce the documentary. "In the case of the methamphetamine production labs, you've got Burmese troops actually guarding the plants, you've got military intelligence guys providing the escorts of the trafficking caravans and military people who allow it to actually cross the border into Thailand," said professor Des Ball in the report, as mentioned in The Nation on June 20. Whether Professor Des Ball has also been blacklisted by the Burmese Junta is not yet known.
    Yangon's little 'electric fishermen'

    The Straits Times - July 16, 2001.

    YANGON - They work by night, the urban fishermen of Yangon, a dozen or so boys with rattan pith helmets and homemade stun guns. At dusk they alight from the 'circular train' - a railway that rings the capital and is the cheapest public transportation - to rendezvous at the station for the middle-class neighbourhood of Kanbe.

    From there they set out on foot on their mission: electrocuting as many fish and eels as they can in the storm drains. With luck each team of two will get a catch weighing 3.2 kg to 6.4 kg, which they will sell to vendors.

    Win Myint, 15, who helps his parents during daytime at their massage business, says: 'You put the charge in the water first, then see the fish come up to surface. Even those hiding in the holes come up.' They do it every night of the week because their families need the extra income.

    Win Myint has eight brothers and sisters, and every day he hands over to his parents his night's earnings - 300 kyat (90 Singapore cents), which is more than half a day's wages for an unskilled labourer in Yangon.
    China, Burma sign memorandum on geology, mineral resources cooperation

    Xinhua (New China News Agency)

    Yangon [Rangoon], 16 July: The Chinese Ministry of Land and Resources and the Myanmar Ministry of Mines reached a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on cooperation in geology and mineral resources here Monday [16 July].

    The MOU designates that the two parties will encourage scientific research institutions and enterprises in geology and mineral resources under their respective ministries to establish and conduct the cooperation to promote investments on exploration, mining and utilization of mineral resources.

    The MOU also designates that the areas of cooperation shall include, but not be limited to, the six areas including mineral resources assessment and planning, mineral resources exploration and mining, and establishment of mineral resources information system.

    The MOU adds that the two parties agreed to set up a Joint Cooperative Committee, which shall meet in Beijing and Yangon alternately.
    Thai boost Border patrol after big drug bust

    Source : Bangkok Post

    Thai Third Army has stepped up drug suppression patrols along the border with Burma after learning that 40 million methamphetamine pills are ready for gradual smuggling into Thailand.

    The 2.6 million pills seized following a clash in Mae Sot district of Tak on Friday were believed to be part of the stockpile, a Third Army source said.

    A Thai soldier, Sgt Seksan Suwansilp, was killed in the clash between the smugglers and a joint patrol of Task Force 399 and the Fourth Infantry Regiment Task Force.

    Sgt Seksan was a member of Task Force 399, which was trained in drug suppression by special warfare troops from the United States. The US soldiers are still in Thailand. They will continue to provide training for two infantry companies, one special warfare company and one Border Patrol Police company until next month.

    The source said the Third Army has stepped up patrols along the border in Mae Ramat, Mae Sot and Phop Phra districts of Tak province on reports that Red Wa, Democratic Karen Buddhist Army and Kokang tribesmen produced about 40 million speed pills and planned to gradually smuggle them across the border into Thailand.

    At the next meeting of the bilateral Regional Border Committee, which has still to be scheduled, Third Army commander Lt-Gen Watanachai Chaimuanwong and Burma's Regional Triangle commander Maj-Gen Thein Sein were expected to discuss the destruction of drug production plants in Burma.

    Thai intelligence services earlier estimated 600-700 million speed pills would be produced this year inside Burma.

    Lt-Gen Watanachai said the 2.6 million speed pills seized on Friday were from drug plants opposite Chiang Mai. The drugs were brought down to an area opposite Mae Sot and then taken across the Moei river in a long-tail boat.

    On the Thai side, the drugs were taken aboard a six-wheel truck with four armed men as guards. The truck was to head for Mae Sot town to load cattle before leaving for the Northeast along the Tak-Sukhothai-Phitsanulok-Phetchabun road. The delivery was foiled by the patrol that spotted the truck.

    Truck owner Chak Wuthikraithe was a former employee of Padaeng Industry Co. Apart from the drugs, soldiers recovered from the truck a list of 11 drug traders in Thailand, one of them a tambon chief, and their telephone numbers. Lt-Gen Watanachai said he would raise the issue with Burmese leaders when he accompanies Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh on a visit to Rangoon on July 23.