Daily News-July 19 - 2001- Thursday

  • Suu Kyi snub raises doubts over Myanmar talks
  • Myanmar accepts it must move to democracy, says Malaysian FM
  • Rights Groups Welcome Release Of Noted Myanmar Journalist
  • Myanmar Marks Martyrs' Day
  • Refugees Flee To Thailand After Myanmar Border Clash
  • Myanmar To Further Develop Tourist Destinations
  • Myanmar Takes Measures to Develop Capital City
  • Burma leader Aung San Suu Kyi a no-show at Martyr's Day ceremony

  • Suu Kyi snub raises doubts over Myanmar talks

    By Aung Hla TunYANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi snubbed a major national ceremony on Thursday commemorating the murder of her father, fuelling fears that landmark peace talks with the military government are in trouble.

    Diplomats said the surprise refusal of the 56-year-old Nobel Peace Prize Winner to attend the ceremony was a signal to the outside world that despite attempts by the ruling generals to extend an olive branch, the two sides remain deeply divided.

    The military has been holding regular secret meetings with Suu Kyi since October in a bid to break the political deadlock that has gripped the impoverished country for more than a decade. No news on the progress of the talks has emerged.

    Suu Kyi has been kept confined to her Yangon residence since September, out of contact with even her closest aides. Only a handful of foreign diplomats have been allowed to see her.

    "It is not good news," said one foreign diplomat in Bangkok. "She can't say anything about the talks but by staying away she is sending a message. We know very little about the talks but this is not a good sign and we are concerned."

    But near neighbour Malaysia hailed progress towards reconciliation between Myanmar's government and its political foes, attributing this to the softly-softly school of diplomacy.

    "The most important thing is that there have been signs, indications of reconciliation between the two parties," Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar told a briefing on an ASEAN foreign ministers meeting in Vietnam next week.

    The annual ceremony in Myanmar commemorates the assassination of Suu Kyi's father, independence hero General Aung San, and eight other cabinet ministers. They were gunned down in 1947 during Myanmar's transition to independence from Britain, when Suu Kyi was just two years old.


    The ceremony began in the early morning in heavy rain, attended by several thousand government officials, civil servants and foreign diplomats.

    Suu Kyi was represented by U Lwin, a senior member of her national League for Democracy (NLD), who laid a wreath on her behalf at Martyrs' Mausoleum at the foot of the soaring, golden Shwedagon Pagoda in central Yangon.

    The NLD won Myanmar's last general election in 1990 by a landslide but was never allowed to govern. Over the last decade its members have faced harassment, arrest and imprisonment. But since the secret talks began in October, more than 150 detained NLD activists have been released and the party has been given permission to reopen 18 of its branch offices. The government and opposition have agreed to refrain from open criticism of each other while the talks are going on.

    On Wednesday the government released 11 prisoners including San San Nwe, a noted writer and close friend of Suu Kyi.

    Earlier this year, diplomatic sources said the talks appeared to have stalled, but subsequent prisoner releases and a visit by United Nations special envoy Razali Ismail, who helped broker the dialogue, stirred hopes the negotiations were still on track.

    Suu Kyi's failure to turn up on Thursday has cast fresh doubt on the talks. In recent years, she has always attended the ceremony, despite her rift with the military government.

    A Yangon diplomatic source close to the government told Reuters the ruling generals had been taken by surprise by Suu Kyi's refusal to attend the ceremony.

    "They didn't expect this kind of response from her, since understanding is being achieved at the secret talks," he said.

    NLD sources said the party planned a low-key ceremony to mark Martyrs' Day at its headquarters later in the afternoon. "It's for party members only. No diplomats, no press," the official said.
    Myanmar accepts it must move to democracy, says Malaysian FM

    KUALA LUMPUR, July 19 (AFP) - Myanmar's ruling generals accept they must move towards democracy to engage with the outside world, Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said Thursday.

    "They accept that the democratic process is necessary. They want to find reconciliation (with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi)."That is a positive move by Myanmar," he told a press conference before next week's meeting of regional foreign ministers in Vietnam.

    Syed Hamid said Myanmar is expected to brief ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) about political developments.

    The junta Wednesday released prominent journalist San San Nwe along with 10 other political prisoners.Aung San Suu Kyi has been held under de facto house arrest since September just before she embarked on landmark talks with the junta.The talks were brokered by Malaysia's Razali Ismail, a special envoy of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

    Syed Hamid said ASEAN adheres strictly to the policy of non-interference in the affairs of members but believes that by "engaging there will be changes."

    Since Myanmar has expressed its intention to bring changes, ASEAN should allow Myanmar to evolve into an acceptable system, he said.

    "We cannot tell Myanmar what to do. It should do what it thinks is best for its country."Definitely, what is happening in the region and what is happening globally in terms of democratisation will have an influence on Myanmar's decision and the type of action it will take," he added.

    After meeting among themselves, the ASEAN foreign ministers will hold talks with their counterparts from Australia, Canada, China, the European Union, India, Japan, North Korea, Mongolia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Russia, South Korea and the United States.The talks with their dialogue partners will be held under the umbrella of the ASEAN Regional Forum.

    Syed Hamid said the gloomy world economic outlook would dominate the July 23-28 meeting."ASEAN faces an economic problem. We want to strengthen our economies to ensure the region remains stable," he said.The Malaysian minister said stability in the Korean peninsula, the South China Sea and the situation in Indonesia were among potential regional "flashpoints" which would be discussed.Developments in Indonesia were a real concern to ASEAN, he said.
    Rights Groups Welcome Release Of Noted Myanmar Journalist

    BANGKOK (AP)--Reporters' rights groups welcomed Thursday the release of San San Nwe, a prominent Myanmar journalist who had been jailed for passing "false" news reports to foreign journalists.

    The New-York based Committee to Protect Journalists urged the ruling military to release all jailed journalists and undertake broader reforms to guarantee press freedom in Myanmar, also known as Burma.

    "While we celebrate the release of San San Nwe, we are sobered by the fact that journalists in Burma remain extraordinarily vulnerable to imprisonment and official harassment," the committee's executive director Ann Cooper said in a statement received in Bangkok.

    San San Nwe, co-winner of the 2001 Golden Pen of Freedom award from the World Association of Newspapers and a leading female journalist in Myanmar, had served seven years of a 10 year sentence at Yangon's Insein Prison. She was among 11 political prisoners released Wednesday.

    It was the latest in a series of conciliatory moves by the military regime since it started closed-door political negotiations late last year with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest. More than 150 opposition activists have been released since the start of the year, but there is little other sign the talks have eased Myanmar decade-long bitter political deadlock.

    Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said in a statement that at least 12 journalists are still in jail in Myanmar. The military, which has ruled since 1962, keeps tight control on the media and stamps on any sign of dissent.

    The group said it was still "very worried" about Sein Hla Oo, a journalist who suffered a heart attack last year in Myitkyina jail, in northern Kachin state, and recently underwent surgery for a hernia.

    It also expressed concern for Win Tin, a founding member of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy. A co-winner of the Golden Pen with San San Nwe, he has been held in Insein Prison since 4 July 1989 and has been severely weakened by several diseases, the statement said. The NLD swept general elections in 1990 but was barred by the military from taking power.
    Myanmar Marks Martyrs' Day

    YANGON, July 19 (Xinhua) -- Myanmar held an annual state ceremony here Thursday to pay tributes to fallen heroes who gave their lives in 1947 in the struggle for the country's independence from the then British colonial rule.

    The 54th Myanmar Martyrs' Day ceremony took place at Yangon's Martyrs' Mausoleum in commemoration of late National Independence Hero General Aung San and his eight councilor members who were all assassinated on July 19, 1947 in the capital's then Secretariat Office (now Office of the Ministers).

    The ceremony was attended by Myanmar Minister of Culture U Win Sein on behalf of Chairman of the Myanmar State Peace and Development Council Senior-General Than Shwe. However, the late general's bereaved daughter Aung San Suu Kyi, general secretary of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) who is still under house arrest by the government, was not present at the event, as in the past years, to lay wreaths and baskets of flower at the tombs.

    Instead, three members of the Central Executive Committee of her party, namely U Lwin, U Than Tun and U Hla Pe, were present on the occasion on her behalf.

    The absence of Aung San Suu Kyi for the first time since 1995 from the country's martyrs' day ceremony is seen as indicating the secret talks between the government and the opposition which have been under way since October last year is not producing substantive results in the areas of confidence building between them. Aung San Suu Kyi, along with NLD Chairman U Aung Shwe, was put under house arrest since September last year when she attempted to travel to the country's second largest city of Mandalay to carry out party activities.

    Meanwhile, the Myanmar authorities freed recently batch by batch the remaining members of the NLD in custody, bringing the total number of political prisoners released up to Wednesday since June 15 to 48. Of them, some are elected members of the people's parliament produced from the government-sponsored 1990 general election, in which the NLD won the majority votes with 396 out of the 485 parliamentary seats.

    The winning NLD complains that it has not been allowed to take office as promised then by the government, while the government still regards itself as a care-taker or transitional government although the election ended more than 11 years ago.
    Refugees Flee To Thailand After Myanmar Border Clash

    BANGKOK (AP)--Nearly 200 ethnic Karen villagers, mostly women and children, fled to Thailand after a clash between rival Karen factions on the Myanmar side of the border, a Thai official said Wednesday.

    About 50 soldiers of the pro-Yangon Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, or DKBA, launched a surprise attack on a mobile border camp of the rebel Karen National Union, or KNU, late Tuesday.

    It was bombarded for about 20 minutes and then overrun. Anuchit Trongkao, the local Thai chief of civilian defense, told The Associated Press that 194 Karen civilians fled the camp and sought refuge in Tha Song Yang district, in Tak province, 370 kilometers north of Bangkok. About 200 other guerrillas and their families abandoned the camp, which lies on the bank of Moei River border, and fled inside Myanmar, he said.

    Two 60 mm mortars shells landed on Thai soil but didn't hurt anyone, leading Thailand to believe the DKBA forces had received supporting mortar fire from Myanmar military, he said. The DKBA attackers burned down four houses and a makeshift hospital before retreating to their own camp deeper inside Myanmar, Anuchit said. He had no details of casualties but expected they were minimal as the KNU had fled the scene before the attack.

    The KNU, which has been fighting for greater autonomy from Yangon for more than 50 years, wasn't immediately available for comment. Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been ruled by its military since 1962. The KNU is one of the few rebel groups in Myanmar yet to reach a cease-fire with the regime. At its peak in the early 1980s, the largely Christian rebel movement had nearly 30,000 soldiers and controlled large enclaves of territory along the border.

    But the KNU was badly split by a defection in the early 1990s of a Buddhist faction, which then set up the pro-Yangon DKBA. The KNU now has only a few thousand guerrillas under arms and has no fixed territory.
    Myanmar To Further Develop Tourist Destinations

    YANGON, July 18 (Oana-Xinhua) -- Myanmar is planning to further develop the 10 existing tourist destinations in the country as part of its tourism promotion program, according to the country's Ministry of Hotels and Tourism Wednesday.

    The 10 tourist destinations are Mandalay, Bagan, Inlay, Taunggyi, Kengtung, Putao, Kawthoung, Chaungtha, Ngapali and Mrauk U, sources of the ministry said.

    In recent years, Myanmar organized private entrepreneurs for participation in tourism fairs held yearly in Thailand, Singapore, China's Hong Kong, Berlin, London, France and Republic of Korea to raise the enthusiasm of local tour operators in its efforts to develop the tourism industry.
    Myanmar Takes Measures to Develop Capital City

    YANGON, July 18 (Xinhuanet) -- Myanmar is taking measures to develop the capital city of Yangon to possess the characteristics of a modern city that could raise the nation's dignity in the world.

    According to the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) Wednesday, it is making efforts to turn Yangon into a main center for national economic progress where all the convenient trade, financial, banking, departmental and management services are available. It has also successfully implemented in the capital the housing projects, set up new satellite towns and industrial zones and carried out urban and city beautifying projects, the YCDC said.

    Yangon used to be a famous metropolis renowned as a garden city of Asia. Later slums appeared and created unhealthy environment and the city lost its cleanliness, pleasantness and urban characteristics. Yangon has a population of over 3 million, according to official estimation.
    Burma leader Aung San Suu Kyi a no-show at Martyr's Day ceremony

    Source : MSNBC / AP

    Rangoon, July 19---In a possible snub to Burma's military rulers, democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi did not appear Thursday at an annual ceremony to honor her slain father, independence hero Gen. Aung San.

    Suu Kyi, who is currently under house arrest, has attended the official Martyr's Day ceremony for the past six years. There was no indication the government had barred her from the event.

    Representatives of the Nobel Peace Prize winner's National League for Democracy went instead. Suu Kyi, Burma's most prominent dissident, remained at her suburban home and gave no explanation for skipping the ceremony.

    ''This is her decision. She asked us to go there,'' said NLD secretary Lwin when asked whether she had been prevented from coming. He refused to elaborate on her decision.

    The no-show by Suu Kyi at the only government ceremony she is allowed to attend has fueled speculation that secret talks between her and the military regime that started late last year aren't going well. No details of the discussions have been made public.

    Lwin was one of three NLD representatives at the ceremony. Under a monsoon downpour, they laid three baskets filled with roses and other flowers at the mausoleum, located at the foot of Rangoon's soaring Shwedagon Pagoda.

    Minister for Culture Win Sein represented the military government at the ceremony, a solemn occasion held each year to commemorate nine people assassinated on July 19, 1947.

    Aung San, six of his cabinet members and two others were gunned down while they were holding a meeting six months before Burma's independence from Great Britain.

    Suu Kyi has been under house arrest since Sept. 22, when she tried to travel outside Rangoon in defiance of official restrictions.

    Diplomats and local political analysts in Rangoon said Suu Kyi's absence at the ceremony could have been intended to make clear to the international community that she remains under detention.

    Later Thursday, more than 350 NLD members attended a private ceremony with songs and poems eulogizing Aung San at the party's headquarters in Rangoon, which Suu Kyi did not attend either.

    In a speech, Lwin urged party members to be disciplined and to consolidate unity to achieve democracy in the country.

    The NLD won general elections in 1990 but was barred by the military from taking power. The secret talks are the most tangible step yet towards breaking a decade of bitter political deadlock.

    On Wednesday, the government released 11 political prisoners associated with the NLD, including four elected members of parliament and a prominent woman writer. It was the latest in a series of conciliatory moves by the junta since it started negotiations with Suu Kyi last year.

    The government has released more than 150 people since January.