Daily News-July 25 - 2001- Wednesday

  • Talks with Myanmar dissident Aung San Suu Kyi on track
  • Australia to continue to push Myanmar on rights
  • Doubts raised over development plan for poorer members
  • Group of Jailed Journalists Nominated for Canadian Press Award
  • Report of forced labour in Burma as new army command set up
  • Burmese army takes action against corrupt commander
  • Khin Nyunt in surprise visit to hold talks in Bangkok
  • Police in Thailand Seize Big Shipment of Drugs
  • Junta to Build Garment Factory
  • Chavalit reassures Rangoon of non-intervention
  • Burma, Vietnam against time zone change

  • Talks with Myanmar dissident Aung San Suu Kyi on track

    HANOI, July 24 (AFP) - Myanmar Foreign Minister Win Aung said Tuesday his military regime's release of dozens of political prisoners showed that watershed talks with opposition leader Aung Sun Suu Kyi remained on track.

    "If the talks are not smooth and if the confrontational approach went on, there will not be any releases, of course," Win Aung told AFP on the sidelines of a meeting of Southeast Asian foreign ministers in Hanoi.

    Myanmar's ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) earlier this month released prominent journalist San San Nwe along with many other political prisoners. The releases came amid talks between the junta and the dissident leader brokered by Malaysia's Razali Ismail, a special envoy of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

    Win Aung said that he did not believe reports that political restrictions had been imposed on Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been held under de facto house arrest since September just before she embarked on the talks with the junta.

    "Whatever requests she has, the government is allowing her. Her living conditions and movements are according to what both sides will like to see," Win Aung said, suggesting that she herself shunned the public. "She will also like to remain like this," he said.

    Win Aung refused to give a time frame for the holding of multi-party elections or define the type of government that would emerge if there was a breakthrough in talks with Aung San Suu Kyi.

    "Let us not forecast what kind of government structure will come out next but our ultimate aim is the emergence of a democratic, multi-party system of government elected by the people," he said.

    Win Aung said the release of political prisoners was "not a public relations stunt or to please anybody" and not done with the hope that the European Union (EU) would lift sanctions imposed on Myanmar for alleged human rights abuses. The EU renewed its sanctions, including a visa ban on junta officials, for six more months in April.

    Win Aung said the country's remaining political prisoners would be released on a "case by case" basis. "If possible we want to close our prisons. Our prisons and legal system are part of preventive measures against those who want to take a confrontational approach," he said. "Now the country is stable and let's not go back to square one."
    Australia to continue to push Myanmar on rights

    HANOI (Reuters) - Australia's Foreign Minister said on Tuesday he would try to persuade military-ruled Myanmar to press ahead with dialogue with the pro-democracy opposition when he holds talks with his counterpart from Yangon this week.

    Speaking in Hanoi, where he is due to meet Myanmar Foreign Minister Win Aung on the sidelines of a regional conference, Alexander Downer said he had detected some signs of progress in the past year.

    "In this last 12 months, I get the sense there has been some movement, but I would say that with a degree of caution. I wouldn't want to be interpreted as overstating," he said.

    Downer said he hoped the military was sincere about a process of dialogue it launched with the National League for Democracy (NLD) and its detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi last October after a long and bitter standoff.

    "We want to push, and continue to push, for that dialogue to move forward," he said."There has to be constitutional reform; there has to be political liberalisation within Burma if it is to be able to enter into the international community and to be able to make real progress, of course, amongst other things, economically."

    Downer said it was estimated that about 80 percent of the heroin entering Australia came from Myanmar and if reforms could move forward such problems could be more readily addressed. He said Australia saw recent releases of political prisoners as positive but noted there were "some still there". Amnesty International puts the figure at about 1,500.

    Downer said the Australian embassy in Yangon did not take the view that Suu Kyi's failure to attend a recent public ceremony in Yangon showed the process of dialogue was breaking down, but he could not say if that interpretation was correct.

    He said Australia considered that some sort of engagement with Myanmar's ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) was beneficial but did not go so far as to embrace the "constructive engagement" policy of Asian regional partners.

    "Obviously we don't want to embrace the SPDC because we're very concerned about what has happened over recent years and the human rights problems in Burma," he said. "But at the same time, we take the view that some sort of engagement is better than none."

    Suu Kyi is being held under de facto house arrest in Yangon and only a handful of foreign diplomats have been allowed to see her.Her failure to attend a national ceremony last week marking the 1947 assassination of her father, independence hero General Aung San, was widely interpreted as a sign the talks with the military had run into trouble.
    Doubts raised over development plan for poorer members

    source : SCMP

    Foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) concluded a two-day meeting in the Vietnamese capital yesterday with the endorsement of an ambitious plan to narrow the development gap between member states.

    But observers said competing national interests and the disparate political systems brought together through Asean's recent expansion meant the objective would be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.

    In a speech to the closing ceremony of the annual gathering, Vietnamese Foreign Minister Nguyen Dy Nien said Asean had unanimously endorsed the so-called Hanoi Declaration, which committed wealthier states such as Malaysia and Singapore to help in the economic development of poorer members more actively. "No doubt this commitment by Asean will see [practical assistance for] Cambodia, Laos, [Burma] and Vietnam, in the implementing of poverty-alleviation programmes . . . for the sake of dynamic and sustained development and prosperity for all Southeast Asian nations," he said.

    Specifically, the declaration targets the four newest Asean members for special help in the development of infrastructure, including the accelerated construction of the Singapore-Kunming rail link and the Asean highway network, the enhancement of human resources and the promotion of information and communication technology.

    That, according to Mr Nien, is to be encouraged through helping them to improve economic and trade links with the rest of the world, and with China, Japan and South Korea in particular.

    But, according to political scientist Carl Thayer, of the Hawaii-based Asia-Pacific Centre for Security Studies, it remains extremely doubtful that the objectives can be met. "China's impending membership in the World Trade Organisation has already led to a diversion of [foreign investment] from Southeast Asia, and once China is in the WTO its goods will be even more competitive on the world market," he said.

    Mr Thayer said Asean's credibility remained severely damaged by the 1997 Asian economic crisis and it seemed not to comprehend fully the limits of its geo-political influence.

    "Asean has been weakened by expansion and the inclusion of new members who are at the low end of the development scale," he said. "The inclusion of [Burma] has resulted in sanctions by the European Union and the United States which have resulted in significant losses of foreign investment."
    Group of Jailed Journalists Nominated for Canadian Press Award

    By Tin Maung Htoo (Canada)
    Burma Media Association(http://www.bma-online.net)
    July 23, 2001

    A group of 24 Burmese journalists who was detained for practicing their right of freedom of expression has been nominated for Canada's International Press Freedom Award with the sponsor of a group of exiled Burmese journalists and the endorsement of a number of rights advocate and political organizations.

    The General-Secretary of Burma Media Association (BMA) Ko Khin Maung Soe said the nomination has been prepared for several months with the initial advice of a radio journalist Ko Kyaw Moe and later reinforced with the idea of a former imprisoned journalist U Htay Aung (Zin Lin) for group nomination. This is the first time of its kind and attempt in nominating all detained journalists for Canadians-version international press award.

    He also added that a number of organizations supporting for this submission are growing, resonating to the nomination letter signed by the president of BMA.Norway-based scholar Ko Maung Maung Myint writes this fact in the letter sent to the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE):

    "We were assured that a number of Burmese and International organizations such as Free Burma Coalition (FBC), Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP, Burma), National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB),Committee for Restoration of Democracy in Burma (CRDB), All Burma Students' League (ABSL) and League for Democracy in Burma (LDB) will support our nomination."

    In addition, it is also learned that this nomination will get support from Canada-based Burmese Students' Democratic organization (BSDO) and Canadian Friends of Burma (CFOB).

    CJFE gave the 1998 International Press Award to a Burmese female journalist Daw San San Nwe while she was in prison, and U Win Pe, a journalist, movie director, and musician, received the award on her behalf in the awarding ceremony in Toronto.When she was released from prison last week with the other 10 political prisoners, CJFE and other international media organizations such as World Association of Newspaper (WAN), Reporters without Border, and Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), hailed by issuing statements.

    CJFE also pressed the ruling military government to release another prominent journalist U Win Tin, sending a letter on April, but he is still remained in prison although some famous and contemporary journalists Maung Wun Tha, Daw San San Nwe and Dr. Aung Khin Sint were released in recent.

    CJFE's award is especially intended for journalists whose efforts and commitments are still in lack of international attention and not yet recognized with international press awards.

    Thus the president of BMA said in the letter that this nomination is more accordant with their targeted criterion, saying, "their case was not yet known to the international community. Except from one (referring to U Win Tin), none of them has ever won any kind of press freedom award that would draw world attention towards the plight of the Burmese journalists and journalism in Burma."

    Most of those nominees were a group of intellectual prisoners tried to exchange information inside the prison and with the outside world. They successfully sent out a report about prison conditions to UN human rights commission, and as a result of this and other practices of freedom of expression in prison they were sentenced additional 5 to 12 years jail terms in 1996. Among convicted, prominent magazine editor, Myo Myint Nyeint, and newspaper editor Win Tin are included, along with Nyunt Zaw who is already deceased in prison.
    Report of forced labour in Burma as new army command set up

    Source: Democratic Voice of Burma, Oslo, in Burmese 1430 gmt 22 Jul 01

    DVB has learned that the SPDC has expanded and formed a new tactical operations headquarters - the No 20 Tactical Operations Headquarters in Kawthaung District since March. Furthermore, the local people have been forcibly recruited to give volunteer labour to build the battalion bases and funds have also been solicited. DVB correspondent Myint Maung Maung filed the report about the situation of the battalions under this newly formed tactical operations headquarters and the plight of the local people.

    [Myint Maung Maung] The newly formed No 20 Tactical Operations Headquarters consists of 10 battalions - three battalions each from the three Tactical Commands and one base battalion. Although the strength of each battalion should be 878 men, the manpower of the battalions is between 200 and 300 men at present.

    The Tactical Operations Commander holds the rank of a colonel while the No 1 Tactical Commander is Lt-Col Tin Maung Nyunt, the No 2 Tactical Commander is Lt-Col Aung Shein, and the No 3 Tactical Commander is Lt-Col Win Naing. All the battalion commanders are majors. Furthermore, all the battalions under the No 20 Tactical Operations Headquarters are situated along Kawthaung-Bokpyin Road near Maliwin, Khamaukgyi, Panthida, Htaingthadaing, and Karakothi Villages.

    Due to the construction of the battalions, Kawthaung-Bokpyin road has been temporary closed. As the new battalions have been under construction, lots of bamboo and wood are needed for its completion.

    Authorities have requested wood and bamboo from oil palm plantation companies along Kawthaung-Bokpyin road while the local people - one from each household - have been forced to contribute their volunteer labour to cut bamboo and to work in the construction project.
    Burmese army takes action against corrupt commander

    BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom; Jul 24, 2001
    Text of report by Burmese opposition radio on 23 July

    A military tribunal has taken action against Lt-Col Aye Ye Tun, commanding officer of LIB [Light Infantry Battalion] 322 in Laukkai, Shan State, on 2 July for dealing in drugs.

    A column led by Lt Moe Min Myint, Lt Myo Thant, and Lt Tun Tun Win from LIB 322 captured two drug traffickers with 10 packets of opium in Mongkoe region in northern Shan State. They ordered them to sell the drugs, took the money and later released them.

    Lt-Col Aye Ye Tun, the commanding officer, received 2m kyat while other officers received 1m each, sergeants received 200,000 kyat each, and the soldiers 50,000 kyat each.

    But Sergeant Tun Aung, who was not satisfied with the money that he received, sent a written complaint to Laukkai Regional Commander Brig-Gen Zaw Win and the case came to light. This report filed by DVB [Democratic Voice of Burma] correspondent Myo Win Thant.
    Khin Nyunt in surprise visit to hold talks in Bangkok

    Wassana Nanuam
    source : Bangkokpost

    Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt, first secretary of Burma's State Peace and Development Council, plans to visit Bangkok soon to help clear the air between the two nations.

    Burmese Prime Minister Than Shwe broke the news yesterday during Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh's two-day visit to Rangoon. Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt would raise border disputes, long-delayed border demarcation and fishing concessions during his visit to Bangkok, which is yet to be scheduled.

    Gen Than Shwe blamed delays in the border demarcation on Thai-Burmese border skirmishes. He said Rangoon was ready to open talks on the issue. Only 50km of the 1,900km-long common border has been demarcated so far.

    Col Pansak Chongsak Panichkul, the defence spokesman, said yesterday a disputed area would be picked for demarcation to set a precedent. Gen Chavalit expected the talks with Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt would prove most fruitful in attempts to resolve Thai-Burmese conflicts, the spokesman said.

    Gen Than Shwe denied that the Burmese government supported the United Wa State Army's methamphetamine trade, and pledged to give full co-operation in drug suppression. However, he stopped short of saying whether or not Rangoon would help stamp out illicit drug factories located in the Wa-controlled area. Thai authorities blame the drug plants across the border for the influx of methamphetamines into Thailand.

    Gen Than Shwe, also defence minister, accused the Thai and foreign media of stirring up tension between the two countries. Referring to reports of Burma's plan to purchase MiG-29 fighters from Russia, he said his government could not afford the aircraft no matter how cheap.

    He stressed that the Burmese government, like any other government, was working towards the people's well-being, except that its approach to the goal might be different.

    Gen Chavalit assured his counterpart that Thailand's procurement of advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles (Amraams) from the US was not aimed at putting pressure on Burma. Gen Chavalit also sought the lifting of a ban on 17 products imposed after border skirmishes between the two armed forces in the North. After his meeting with key Burmese leaders, Gen Chavalit visited Shwedagon pagoda and the Drugs Elimination Museum, which was opened on June 21 with exhibitions showing Burma's determination to stamp out drugs through destruction of opium fields.

    A source said Burma also showed aerial photographs of the Wa's Mong Yawn town, which Thai authorities believe is a major drug-producing centre. Burma claimed large structures shown in the photos were reservoirs and power plants, the source said.

    Gen Chavalit's visit to Burma follows a trip to Rangoon by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in June, which resulted in the reopening of the Mae Sai-Tachilek border checkpoint.
    Police in Thailand Seize Big Shipment of Drugs

    BANGKOK (AFP)-The Thai police have seized 300,000 methamphetamine doses that had been hidden inside sacks of perfumed jasmine rice to put sniffer dogs off the scent, the Thai anti-narcotics police chief said Monday.

    The investigating police found the pills loaded on a pickup truck at a gas station in Chiang Rai, 680 kilometers (422 miles) north of Bangkok.

    "This is the first time we've seen them hidden this way," Priewpan Damapong, commissioner of the Narcotics Suppression Bureau, told a press conference. The police arrested a Burmese national, Si Win, 39; and two Thai nationals, Sukchan Chanta, 33, and his wife Urai, 41.

    Abuse of methamphetamines is rampant in Thailand. The Thai authorities said the drugs are imported from illicit laboratories in eastern Burma.
    Junta to Build Garment Factory

    source : The Irrawaddy News Magazine
    By Maung Maung Oo

    July 24, 2001--Burma's military government is planning to build a new garment factory in Rangoon despite a proposal by the United States government to ban all Burmese imports, according to a business source in Rangoon.

    The new factory would create 500 jobs for Burma's growing number of workers who could face unemployment if private investors pull out in response to the proposed American ban.

    United States Senate Bill 926 was introduced in May of this year and calls for a ban on all imports from Burma. The bill came in response to the International Labor Organization's (ILO) condemnation of Burma's labor practices last November.

    Burma exported US$403 million in garments to the US market in 2000. This represents 26.5 percent of their total exports for that year, according to Burmese export figures for 2000.

    The Burmese government is currently running about twenty garment factories in Rangoon's industrial zones. Rangoon is home to over 400 garment factories, the majority of which are privately owned, the source said.

    Meanwhile, the Myanmar Garment Manufacturers Association (MGMA) in conjunction with the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI) recently circulated a petition in over fifty garment factories calling on the US government to withdrawal their proposed ban. The petition said over 300,000 workers and their families would be affected by the ban. Most of the workers in Burma's garment industry are young women.

    The Defense Ministry's Office of Strategic Studies (OSS) is thought to be responsible for this latest attempt to ease international sanctions against the regime, according to a source in Rangoon. The source also said that it was a move by the military government to convince Burmese citizens that the sanctions are having a direct effect on them.
    Chavalit reassures Rangoon of non-intervention

    Source : Bangkok Post

    Thai Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh has confirmed with the Burmese leaders Bangkok's policy of non-intervention in Rangoon's internal affairs.

    Gen Chavalit reiterated the policy during dinner with Burmese Prime Minister and Defence Minister Gen Than Shwe in Rangoon on Monday night.

    Thailand would not interfere in Burmese politics nor support any ethnic minority groups, he said.

    The government realised Rangoon did not have full control over its ethnic groups.

    "We do not want to appease Burma or judge what is right or wrong. The reunification of the nation by peaceful means should be the focus," Gen Chavalit said yesterday.

    "I have not proposed the formation of a national government with Aung San Suu Kyi, as stated once in Bangkok, because I do not want to intervene in Burma's political affairs." He said past border disputes between the two countries were just "accidents". They must join forces to solve border, drug and foreign labour problems, with the aim of building trust.

    Border problems must be tackled on the basis of harmony, prosperity and transparency and by proper demarcation of the 2,401km border, Gen Chavalit said.

    Rangoon was asked to lift a ban on the import of 15 products from Thailand and to allow "account trade" by shifting from payment in US dollars to transactions via bank accounts.

    Gen Chavalit said the first secretary of the ruling State Peace and Development Council, Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt, would visit Bangkok in Sept for talks on border, drugs and fisheries problems.

    Deputy Defence Minister Yuthasak Sasiprapa said agreement was reached with Burma's Immigration and Pollution Minister Saw Tun on the need to register the estimated one million Burmese workers in Thailand to solve the problem of illegal foreign labour.
    Burma, Vietnam against time zone change

    Source : Bangkok Post

    Burma and Vietnam were cool to Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's idea of advancing Thailand's time by one hour, Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh said.

    The defence minister said in Rangoon yesterday that Mr Thaksin had asked him to sound out reactions from neighbouring countries on the proposed time-zone change.

    When he raised the idea with Burmese Prime Minister Gen Than Shwe, he got a reply that the current Thai time was just fine, Gen Chavalit said.

    Vietnamese Defence Minister Pham Van Tra reacted the same way when they met in Hanoi last week, he said.

    Gen Chavalit said he had conveyed Mr Thaksin's invitation for Burmese military leaders to visit Thailand. Gen Than Shwe responded that he would have to clear any trips first.