Daily News-July 21 - 2001- Saturday

  • Burma junta disappointed over Suu Kyi no-show on Martyrs Day
  • Breakdown of talks seen in no-show
  • RSF Protests over Blacklisted Two Journalists
  • Cornering the small arms market in northeast India
  • Thailand seizes biggest heroin haul this year
  • Japan agreed to help Burmese refugees
  • India may sell 50,000t wheat to Burma
  • Chavalit to declare No help for Burma minority groups

  • Burma junta disappointed over Suu Kyi no-show on Martyrs Day

    YANGON, July 20 (AFP) - Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's absence from an annual ceremony marking her father's 1947 assassination was regrettable but it respected her decision not to attend, the Myanmar junta said Friday.

    "Yes, we expected Aung San Suu Kyi to attend the Martyrs' Day ceremony," a senior spokesman for the regime told AFP in a statement. "The nation regrets her absence and the government has nothing to say but to respect her decision."

    Speculation over whether Aung San Suu Kyi would attend Thursday's ceremony at Yangon's Shwedagon pagoda raged ahead of Martyrs' Day, which commemorates the deaths of national founder General Aung San and eight other leaders. The Nobel laureate, who has been held under loose house arrest since September, chose to send a high-level delegation to represent her, in a gesture which fell short of a snub to the military government.

    Diplomats and political observers said the opposition leader's move appeared to be directed at the house arrest restrictions rather than the historic talks with the junta which she embarked on last October.

    "She's sending messages about her own situation as much as anything else," one diplomat said. "And it was interesting the choice was to let the NLD (National League for Democracy) be represented by people who were actually free to travel. I think she's making a point there."Speculation that the no-show was a sign the talks have completely broken down was off the mark, he said.

    Another diplomat agreed, saying talk of a renewed rift between the two sides on Myanmar's political divide was a "storm in a teacup."

    The spokesman for the country's ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) said Aung San Suu Kyi had been expected to attend precisely because the contacts were progressing well. "On account of the recent positive developments taking place between the SPDC government and the NLD party, the government believes that the road for better understanding and cooperation has been paved optimistically, anticipating for the best," he said. "In this regard, not only was the invitation officially extended but transportation as well as an escort officer was being arranged for maximum convenience."

    However, observers in Yangon said the opposition leader typically avoids any situation which may play into the junta's hands. "They do try to play games by getting her to do things that give them more of a cloak of respectability than most people say they deserve," one diplomat said. "She certainly is not wanting the government to get away with portraying anything she does as being the normal situation -- as long as the situation is not normal," he added.
    Breakdown of talks seen in no-show

    South China Morning Post Friday
    July 20, 2001
    WILLIAM BARNES in Bangkok

    Fears that peace talks between the military Government and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi are in trouble were sparked yesterday when she failed to appear at a national ceremony commemorating the murder of her father.

    Analysts said Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's absence was a strong signal that she was dissatisfied with the progress in talks she has held with the Government that started 11 months ago, observers in Rangoon said.

    The regime has released about 150 political prisoners so far this year - 11 of them on Wednesday - but as many as 2,000, possibly many more, remain in jail, including at least 20 MPs elected in the opposition's massive 1990 victory.

    The deceptively frail wife of an Oxford academic was first seen in public after six years of house arrest when she laid a wreath at the bright red communist-style monument beneath the Schwedagon Pagoda that dominates the capital in 1995. Yet she has rarely missed a ceremony that honours her independence hero father, the creator of the modern army, despite her years of confinement, according to sources in the capital.

    Her talks with the military that some Burmese had giving up hoping for have been kept highly confidential in an effort to build up trust, United Nations special envoy to Burma Ismail Razali said recently. The apparently vital go-between talks are due to re-start in August.

    Although the prisoner releases are widely seen as a positive thing, one observers said the political situation had only reverted to what it was before the 1998 government crackdown.

    "We have many hundreds of political prisoners. The regime tolerates no shows of even mild political dissent and no hint of the talks has appeared in the official media," one Rangoon resident said.

    "Suu Kyi doesn't want to grant the regime credit for doing nothing, for just acting more normally. My guess is that the regime has not yet made any significant concessions."

    The generals of a regime that has ruled since a 1962 coup maintain they are steering the country towards a multi-party democracy. Yet analysts are virtually united in thinking the generals remain wedded to the vision of a country tightly controlled by the military. The latest talks, after years of trying to break and isolate Ms Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy, are seen by cynics as merely a scheme to outflank threatened international sanctions, especially moves in the US Congress to ban Burmese garment imports that have surged sharply in recent years.

    "I just don't think the military has a plan. They started talking to her because even their friends [including Malaysia] told them it might be a good idea," a political analyst said.

    "That is why I think if anything is going to happen it is not going to happen quickly - and that is going to be a problem for Suu Kyi. At some stage she is going to have to say something to the world and her supporters. Right now, I don't think she has much to show."

    But her no-show yesterday may just be a refusal on her part not to let the military - which invited her - dictate her movements. She is under de facto house arrest with no local diplomatic visits. But during the initial talks she tacitly acknowledged that this is with her partial consent.

    "She may have decided that if she showed up it would boost the military more than it boosted her. We simply can't be sure," a Rangoon-based diplomat said.
    RSF Protests over Blacklisted Two Journalists

    By Tin Maung Htoo (Canada)
    Burma Media Association
    July 19, 2001

    One of the media watchdog groups Reporters Without Border - Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF)- asks the ruling Burmese military government to lift the act of blacklisting two foreign journalists who are barred from entering the country, sending a letter to the foreign minister U Win Aung, said in today's statement.

    "While the SPDC and the NLD have begun a dialogue, it is the duty of your government to let the international press work freely in Burma," suggested Robert Ménard, general secretary of RSF in the letter.

    The blacklisted two journalists are Evan Williams from the Australian TV channel ABC, and Tony Emerson from American-based Newsweek magazine. Australian reporter Evan Williams documented a TV report about the involvement of the Burmese junta in drug smuggling, and subsequent protest was ensued by the military government regarding the documentary broadcast on 26 June 2001.

    According to the RFS statement, Evan Williams was also refused a visa for Burma for two years after he wrote a report about the crackdown against opposition party National League for Democracy in 1998, and Tony Emerson was put on blacklist because of his article about the SPDC's education policy that was published on 9 July 2001 in weekly-issued Newsweek magazine.

    RFS also said, "dozens of foreign journalists have been blacklisted since 1988. Most of them enter the country with tourist visas to avoid the drastic controls imposed on reporters provided with press visa." However, some reporters entered with tourist visas got caught and expelled from the country in the past years, of them, French journalist Philippe Grangereau and Italian journalist Maurizio Giouliano were included.

    The General -Secretary of RSF reminded in the letter that, "To prevent the international public opinion from knowing the real situation in the country is a grave violation of the right to be informed."
    Cornering the small arms market in northeast India

    AIZWAL, India, July 20 (AFP) - India's fareastern borders, bordering Myanmar and Bangladesh, are a gun runner's paradise.A porous frontier, thick with forest and corrupt border guards, have turned the area into one of the world's busiest small arms' bazaars, feeding insurgencies and rebellions across South Asia.

    "The illegal arms markets along the international borders are continuing to flourish with new consignments arriving via Bangladesh and Myanmar regularly," Mizoram Chief minister Zoramthanga (one name) told AFP in an interview in the state capital Aizawl.

    The arms are brought into the states of Assam, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Manipur, and most make their way to the 30-odd rebel groups operating in the region.

    "The international borders along the northeastern states are arms bazaars for smugglers to sell weapons to the region's insurgent groups," the chief minister said."Unless the international borders are fenced one cannot check the flow of illegal arms reaching the hands of the underground outfits."The chief minister was himself a top militant leader of the outlawed Mizo National Front before the outfit surrendered in 1986 and entered the political mainstream.

    Militant groups such as the banned United Liberation Front of Assam, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland and the All Tripura Tiger Force have long purchased arms from the port town of Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh.

    Most of the weapons, including AK-47 and AK-56 assault rifles, mortars, 40mm rocket launchers, pistols, revolvers and grenades, come via the Arakans -- a mountainous area in Myanmar -- from parts of Thailand and Cambodia.

    "The arms consignments are often routed by sea through the Bay of Bengal to its destination in the Arakan forest, which is across from Mizoram," the chief minister said.The area is controlled by Arakan insurgent groups opposed to the military regime in Yangon.

    The proliferation of smuggled weapons in South Asia, including India's northeast, has been raised at the ongoing two-week conference at the United Nations in New York on curbing the trade in small arms."Small arms are the weapons of choice in many of the small regional insurgencies in Pakistan, Kashmir, Sri Lanka, or rebel movements in northeastern India," Faruq Faisel, a spokesman for the South Asia Partnership, which analyzes regional security, said at the UN."The weapons are cheap and easy to operate even by children as young as 10 years old," Faisel said.Methods of procuring the arms are also becoming more sophisticated.

    "Many of the northeastern militant groups have opened up front companies in Thailand and other Southeast Asian capitals to serve as a smokescreen for their agents to seek arms deals," a top army commander, engaged in counter-insurgency operations in Assam, told AFP."The militants have a sophisticated range of weapons," the commander said, citing the seizure by the army of surface-to-air missiles.
    Thailand seizes biggest heroin haul this year

    By Nopporn Wong-Anan

    BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai police said on Friday they had seized 74 kg (164 lb) of heroin -- the largest haul this year -- and millions of baht in cash and assets after breaking up a major drugs ring.

    Police arrested in raids this week two male and five female suspects, found 200 bricks of heroin, and seized 22.8 million baht ($498,000) and $114,251 in cash. Bank accounts worth 52.28 million baht, and 15 cars and trucks were also confiscated.

    Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said the suspects were Thai, Myanmar and Chinese members of a drugs syndicate. Thammarak Isarangura, minister attached to the Prime Minister's Office, told a radio show that police arrested seven suspects early this week after having traced their connections through bank transactions. The heroin was seized on Tuesday.

    Such investigations into bank transactions were made possible by new legislation passed last year aimed at clamping down on money laundering, which has won praise from Washington.

    "I think the important thing to realise is that we have the Thai police, the office of narcotic control board and the anti-money laundering office all working together," said William Snipes, a Bangkok-based agent of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency who attended a news conference on the bust. "And the results you can see on the table. It's very good, great results," he said.

    The heroin was estimated to be worth 32.4 million baht ($709,000) on the streets of Bangkok, but would fetch many times that in the West, said Police Major Pornpat Suyanan.

    Fighting drugs has been one of the top priorities of the government since it came to power at the start of the year. Thailand forms part of the notorious "Golden Triangle" -- where the Thai, Myanmar and Laotian borders meet -- believed by international agencies to be one of the world's top heroin producing regions. But experts say that production of methamphetamines is increasingly supplanting opium and heroin there as the main threat.

    Thai authorities estimate the number of the stimulant tablets being trafficked across its borders will reach 800 million this year, up from 500 million in 2000.

    Thai officials say most of the tablets are manufactured in makeshift laboratories in areas under the control of Myanmar ethnic groups which have signed peace deals with the military government in return for relative autonomy. The main group blamed by Thai authorities is called the United Wa State Army (UWSA). Thammarak said on Friday the arrested suspects were believed to have bought much of the heroin from the UWSA.

    China and Thailand recently agreed to hold a ministerial -level meeting to hammer out ways of combating the drugs trade, along with Laos and Myanmar. The meeting is scheduled to be held in Beijing next month.
    Japan agreed to help Burmese refugees

    Bangkok Post - July 20, 2001.

    The Japanese government has agreed to contribute US$1.5 million to refugee programmes in Thailand, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said yesterday.

    The money would help the UN agency support about 110,000 Burmese refugees in 10 camps. It was part of $83 million Tokyo gave the UNHCR for its operation worldwide.
    India may sell 50,000t wheat to Burma

    The Economic Times

    MUMBAI -INDIA is likely to export about 50,000 tonnes of wheat to Myanmar in August-September, traders said today.“We received some enquiries from Myanmar traders about Indian wheat but they had some concerns about the quality of the grain,an official said.
    But the Indian company had assured them about quality and sent samples, he said.They appear satisfied with the quality of our wheat.India is also expected to export wheat to countries like Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia in the next two months, traders said.
    The Philippines firms today bought a total of 44,00 tonnes of Indian wheat at below $117 per tonne C&F, industry sources in Manila said. India is likely to export about 750,000 tonnes of wheat in the second quarter of the current fiscal year ending March 2002, traders said.
    The country sold about 700,000 tonnes of wheat on the world market during the first quarter. Since October 2000, India is estimated to have shipped 2.4 million tonnes of wheat. (Reuters)
    Chavalit to declare No help for Burma minority groups

    Source : Bangkok Post

    Thai Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh will declare a hands-off stance towards backing anti-Rangoon minority groups to mark his July 23-24 visit to Burma.

    Thai forces would stop giving support to Burmese minority groups, including the Shan State Army and the Karen National Union, a source said. This was the gist of a pledge Gen Chavalit would make to Burmese Prime Minister Than Shwe.

    The Burmese government would be asked to pledge co-operation with Thailand on drugs and not help the Wa with drug production, the source added.

    "In fact, the military stopped supporting minorities long ago. But there might be local-level relationships and some humanitarian help remaining. Some minority people might come to ask for food occasionally.

    "After Gen Chavalit's statement is made, we will completely stop supporting or doing things in favour of minority people," the source said.

    Thai security forces would round up minority people using Thai soil as a base to undermine Rangoon.

    "We will not crack down on minority groups. But neither will we help their operations nor turn a blind eye," he said.

    Gen Chavalit had already sent out word to the army, in particular the First and Third armies.

    Gen Chavalit will visit Burma accompanied by the supreme commander and the chiefs of the three armed forces. Third Army commander Lt-Gen Watanachai Chaimuanwong said his troops had never helped minority groups, even Shan rebels whose anti-drug efforts indirectly benefited Thailand.