Daily News-June 04 - 2001- Monday

  • U.N. Envoy Meets With Suu Kyi For Second Time
  • Burma said "fabricating" news to label Karen National Union as "terrorists"
  • New face at the table of the ruling military council
  • Army chief 'ill-at-ease' talking about the border
  • EIU revises outlook for Burma economy downward
  • Burma Produces Less Crude Oil in 1st Two Months
  • Chinese developers "interested" in Ivanhoe project
  • UN envoy completes Burma reconciliation mission
  • UN Envoy Ends Visit ToBurma, Silent On Result

  • U.N. Envoy Meets With Suu Kyi For Second Time

    YANGON, Myanmar (AP)--A U.N. envoy met with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi for a second time on Sunday in his latest attempt to push forward her reconciliation talks with the country's military rulers.

    Razali Ismail drove to Suu Kyi's lakeside villa where she has been held under virtual house arrest since September even while she has been talking to the junta's leaders.

    The talks were initiated secretly by Razali in October. Although the existence of the talks was revealed in January, both sides have agreed not to divulge the agenda or their progress.

    Razali, who arrived in Yangon on Friday on a four-day visit, met with Suu Kyi Saturday also. He had earlier that day held talks with Secretary One Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt of the ruling State Peace and Development Council. Details of the talks have not been revealed.

    Razali's visit, his third to Myanmar since his appointment as the United Nations special envoy in April 2000, comes amid reports that the talks are not progressing well.

    The junta has come under widespread criticism, mainly by the West, for refusing to hand over power to Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party, which won the 1990 general elections. Instead, NLD members have been subjected to harassment and arrest. Myanmar has been ruled by the military since 1962. The current group of generals took power in 1988, gunning down thousands of pro-democracy protesters nationwide. The National League for Democracy was formed two weeks later.

    Last month the government denied that the talks were stalled and Foreign Minister Win Aung said the negotiations were not merely a "publicity stunt" to appease the West.

    Until October, the junta had consistently refused to negotiate with the opposition if Suu Kyi took part. The change of heart is believed to have been brought about by Razali, a Malaysian, as well as Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad.
    Burma said "fabricating" news to label Karen National Union as "terrorists"

    BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom; Jun 3, 2001

    Text of report by Burmese opposition radio on 1 June

    The SPDC [Peace and Development Council] has issued a news release today [1 June] stating that one passenger was killed and another five were injured when the KNU [Karen National Union] Karen rebels fired at a passenger car plying between Myawadi and Kawkareik. The incident occurred last Wednesday [30 May] at a location near Sukali Bridge close to Kawkareik. Regarding the SPDC's announcement DVB [Democratic Voice of Burma] contacted KNU Secretary Phado Mahn Shar and asked him about the incident.

    [Begin Phado Mahn Shar recording] Firstly, we have ordered our troops not to hurt any civilian at all and to avoid any possible civilian casualty in attacking the SPDC troops. The second point is the civilians are not our targets and we have a duty to protect them. The third point is the SPDC has stationed troops very heavily in that area and for us to go and attack them in that area in such small number is ridiculous. We have not received any news about that incident. Recently, there were news that the KNU attacked a passenger car and killed innocent civilians, in another occasion they said the KNU killed over 20 woodcutters in the forest, and now this.They are deliberately fabricating these news to label us as terrorists. [End of recording]
    New face at the table of the ruling military council

    source : Burma Courier No. 272 June 2, 2001

    RANGOON, May 28 (CNS) -- Virtually unnoticed by the outside world, a new commander has been appointed to head the Burma Army’s military operations in Mon and Karen states. A news item in the New Light of Myanmar on May 27 noted that Brig-Gen Myint Swe, the commander of the Southeast Military Command, had made a speech at the opening of a dam in Mudon township the previous day.

    Brig-Gen Myint Swe replaces Maj-Gen Sit Maung who was killed in a helicopter crash in February. He previously headed the Drug Control Directorate of the Ministry of Defence.

    As a regional commander he will also assume Sit Maung’s position on the military council that rules Burma. One vacancy remains on the 19-member council, as no one has yet been named to replace Lt-Gen Tin Oo who also perished in the same helicopter crash. There have been rumours that divisions within the ruling junta have prevented the naming of a successor to Tin Oo, widely known as Secretary No.2.

    In an interesting sidenote, the cabinet minister formerly in charge of the Telecoms Ministry, Brig-Gen Win Tin, would appear to have become a "non-person" in the military hierarchy in Burma. His name was neatly excised from translation by the junta’s Paris embassy of an article describing a visit Win Tin made to Beijing just before he got the sack from the Telecoms position. Sic transit gloria.
    Army chief 'ill-at-ease' talking about the border

    source : The Bangkokpost

    A national hero, or plain warmonger?

    Kunsiri Olarikkachat and Wassana Nanuam

    Third Army commander Watanachai Chaimuanwong feels ill at ease now when asked to comment about border troubles with Burma.

    "A warmonger. A big money spender on war. Those are the remarks about me lately. "I have already been shown the yellow card several times. I can't say anything. I have to talk less," Lt-Gen Watanachai said. "I feel awkward."Outside the Defence Ministry, the commander has achieved national hero status, the legacy of his tough response to a spate of northern border incidents including Burmese-backed troop incursions in recent months.

    Criticism has rained down from within the ministry, however, headed by former prime minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, that the Third Army was running an "expensive war". Military sources said the cost of all that fighting was several hundred million baht. More than 1,000 artillery shells, they said, had been fired since border tensions intensified.

    Burmese leaders, meanwhile, said they were unhappy with the way the Third Army commander was handling border conflicts. In an indication of how seriously they viewed the matter, they took their messages to the top, relaying them through PM's Office Minister Thammarak Issarangkura na Ayutthaya.

    In February, a Burmese force seized a Thai army outpost in Ban Pang Noon in Chiang Rai's Mae Fah Luang district in pursuit of Shan rebels. Lt-Gen Watanachai told them to pull out, but they ignored his deadline. He ordered a strike which resulted in heavy casualties among the Burmese troops. Burma perceived Lt-Gen Watanachai as too "belligerent".

    In a recent interview with the Bangkok Post, Lt-Gen Watanachai said that as a soldier, he had to do a soldier's job. "My duty is to safeguard our territorial integrity," he said. "I'll drive out whoever comes in. I'll fire back at whoever fires the first shot."Lt-Gen Watanachai said there was no choice but to fight back when the Red Wa captured Doi Hua Lone in Chiang Mai's Fang district last month. "Who could let them stay?" he said.

    Taking back what belonged to this country came at a price. "We had to shell intruders. We could not make our soldiers walk over there and shoot them. That's crazy. Our men would get killed first," Lt-Gen Watanachai said. But the real cost was far below the figures cited. Lt-Gen Watanachai said less than 300 shells had been fired since violence erupted in February. Add in soldiers' allowances, petrol and other expenses, the 100 million baht cost of defending the border should come as no surprise, he said. "Burma fired 60 shells, we returned 80. That was strategy. We never fired at Burma first," said the commander.

    Despite negative reactions from some circles, Lt-Gen Watanachai said he and his soldiers did not feel discouraged and were still in good morale. Army chief Surayud Chulanont also gave him full support. "I will continue to do what I used to do," he said. Lt-Gen Watanachai, however, believed Burma was not ready to wage a full-scale war with Thailand. Rangoon had been battling to gain control over various minority tribes struggling to form independent states for decades.

    Burma, he said, had cited its campaign against minority forces as a reason for being unable to eliminate drug production at its border. Lt-Gen Watanachai said he had offered help in the form of joint border patrols and combined suppression forces but Burma turned him down. "They said that they could not explain to their people why foreign forces were on their soil if they let us in," he said. Lt-Gen Watanachai said he could not see an end to the drug problem. There was little Thailand could do if Burma did not stop drug activities in its own country, he said.

    "Only if producers stop making drugs will we get rid of the problem. But drugs are being made outside our country so we can't do anything."The Burmese government had declared an anti-drugs policy and pledged co-operation in crackdown operations, he said. "Anything's possible at the negotiation table. But in reality it is a different story," Lt-Gen Watanachai said. "Whenever we wanted to check progress, Burmese officials would say they had yet to receive orders from their government."In April, Burma pledged help to destroy methamphetamine factories if Thailand gave it information about their whereabouts, he said. "But I have yet to hear that Burma has destroyed even one," Lt-Gen Watanachai said. "Greedy" Thais were partly to blame, for supplying precursor chemicals and production gear to Burma.

    Major producing areas were Mong Yawn and Mong Mai, controlled by the United Wa State Army. There were also speed factories in border areas opposite Tak run by the pro-Rangoon Democratic Karen Buddhist Army.

    "We can say that Burma trusted the Red Wa to take care of the northern part, and DKBA the southern part. "And Burma had already declared that a violation of Wa territorial integrity is like a violation of its own integrity, " Lt-Gen Watanachai said.

    It was within the power of the National Security Council to boycott trading with any minority group dealing in drugs. When border passes in some northern provinces eventually reopened, border security authorities would allow trading only with the Burmese, not the Red Wa. The Third Army closed all border checkpoints with Burma in Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son and Tak after Rangoon attacked the Shan State Army in February.

    Since suppression of drugs at origin was nearly impossible, Lt-Gen Watanachai said state agencies needed to work with solidarity in disrupting trafficking. He said intelligence must be improved and X-ray machines bought for drug searches. The Phitsanulok-based Third Army was buying more weapons and equipment for Task Force 399, dealing specifically with drug suppression, including two Black Hawk helicopters which were capable of operating at night, he said.
    EIU revises outlook for Burma economy downward

    Burma Courier No. 272 June 2, 2001

    Based on the May, 2001, report of the EIU Risk Service

    LONDON -- The May report of the closely watched Economist Intelligence Unit forecasts a more uncertain outlook for the Myanmar economy than bulletins issued by the EIU earlier this year.

    Written before the kyat crumpled to its record street-level low of 900 to the $US in mid-May, the EIU report predicts that "weak reserves, high inflation and political uncertainty" will drive down the value of the kyat "more rapidly than we had previously expected".

    The EIU report sees little prospect that the junta will attempt to realign the official value of the kyat, a move believed by many economists to be a key to long-term recovery of the currency.

    The report says that little that is new emerged in the junta’s five-year economic plan for 2001-6, unveiled in April. Development of the agriculture and energy sectors remain priorities. "However no new policies have been introduced to help stimulate these sectors."

    The EIU notes the current discussions with NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi and ventures the opinion that "an NLD government could be expected to undertake sweeping economic reform with the assistance of multilateral institutions. Such developments would result in a faster rate of growth and a much stronger external environment. However, until there are further signs of progress towards political reform, we have maintained our less optimistic economic forecast."

    According to some press accounts, the country’s current account balance the sum of its external trade, services and private remittance surpluses or deficits sank to a record deficit of US$ 500 million in 2000, although the Economist estimate is closer to a US$ 335 million shortfall. The trade deficit continued at about a billion dollars in 2000, the report says, and overseas remittances and other transfers again fell, down from a high of US$ 655 million in 1997 to US$ 440 million in 2000.

    These remittances from workers and exiles in foreign countries now a vital source of foreign exchange and the reduction of the trade deficit -- will again fall in the current year, the EIU forecasts, as a result of the tougher climate for migrant workers and the slow down in Thailand’s economy, in particular.

    The slowing of economic growth in southeast Asia this year will also "reduce demand for Myanmar’s exports and constrain inflows of foreign investment". The price of key agricultural commodities and exports, such as rice, pulses and fish products, as well as timber and rubber, will continue to move downwards as a result of weakening world demand, the EIU predicts. "Oil prices will fall in 2001-2, but will remain fairly high in historic terms, keeping up the pressure on import costs and hampering industrial activity."

    Economic growth in Myanmar will slow to an average of around 5% this year and next and will only pick slightly in 2002-3 to about 5.3%, the current forecast says. However, the industrial sector will grow steadily but slowly at around 7%. "Sluggish foreign direct investment will hold down manufacturing growth."

    Inflation will accelerate to 13% in 2001 and 16% in 2002, fueled by wage hikes, monetization of the fiscal deficit and upward pressure on prices of imported consumer goods.
    Burma Produces Less Crude Oil in 1st Two Months

    Xinhua, Rangoon, 2 June 2001. Myanmar produced a total of 533,000 barrels of crude oil in the first two months of this year, 11 percent less than the same period of 2000, according to the latest data issued by the country's Central Statistical Organization.

    During the two-month period, the country yielded 230.47 million cubic-meters of natural gas, also falling by 9 percent from the corresponding period of 2000. In 2000, the country produced 3.538 million barrels of crude oil and 1.538 billion cubic-meters of natural gas.

    Since Myanmar opened to foreign investment in late 1988, such investment in the oil and gas sector coming from oil companies of Australia, Britain, France, Indonesia, Japan, Thailand and the United States has reached 2.355 billion dollars in 51 projects, taking up 32.2 percent of the country's total contracted foreign investment by sector.

    So far Myanmar's petroleum and its products are insufficient to meet the demand and the country still has to import 280,000 to 300, 000 tons of crude oil and 100,000 to 150,000 tons of diesel oil annually.
    Chinese developers "interested" in Ivanhoe project

    Burma Courier No. 272 June 2, 2001

    Courier News Service: May 31, 2001

    VANCOUVER -Ivanhoe Mines says that the joint venture company in which it shares a 50-50 stake with Burma’s military government is in discussions with a "leading Chinese development company" that is interested in making a bid on the Letpadaung extension project of the copper mine which the JV operates near Monywa in Upper Burma.

    Earlier in May, Ivanhoe announced that the JV, known as Myanmar Ivanhoe Copper Company (MICC), had received a letter of intent from "a major Japanese trading house" to cover financing and construction on the project. It is believed that Marubeni is the Japanese company in question.

    News of the potential, "competing offer" on the Letpadaung project, whose value is estimated at US$ 389 million, was made public in the Vancouver-based mining company’s first quarter report for 2001. No details were provided, but the company said it had also received "expressions of interest" from equipment suppliers who were interested in financing the mining fleet for the construction project. A separate bid on the equipment would reduce the initial capital requirements of the Letpadaung project by between 50 and 60 million dollars.

    Copper cathode production at the Monywa mine was down slightly in the first quarter of 2001 to just under 7,000 tonnes with sales for the JV falling to US$ 10.4 million from US$ 10.6 million in the same period last year. Ivanhoe says that production is expected to rise during the whole year to a level of 28,300 tonnes.
    UN envoy completes Burma reconciliation mission

    YANGON, June 4 (AFP) - UN envoy Razali Ismail Monday ended a four-day mission to Myanmar where he met democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the ruling junta in a bid to revive the reconciliation talks they began last year.

    Razali visited Aung San Suu Kyi twice at her lakeside villa during his visit, and also met the junta's influential number three, Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt, and Foreign Minister Win Aung.

    The Malaysian diplomat is credited with acting as a catalyst for the historic dialogue that began last October but which in recent months appears to have faltered after reaching a delicate decision-making stage.

    All parties involved in the talks, the first between the military regime and Aung San Suu Kyi since 1994, have agreed not to divulge any details of their content or progress.

    However, diplomats in Yangon said that Razali's presence after a break of five months was a good sign that the reconciliation process has not completely broken down."He's come here and been able to talk to both sides and go to and fro between them and encourage them, and that's pretty important," one said."He comes as a special person with a special mandate which the Myanmar side recognises ... but the situation is all still very delicate."

    Senior members of the opposition National League for Democracy had said they expected the junta would mark Razali's visit with the release of some of the country's estimated 1,700 political prisoners.

    But with no sign so far of any goodwill gesture, or of a hoped-for official statement on the progress of the talks, there will be disappointment among those who have so far been left out of the process.

    Dissident groups and the nation's many ethnic minorities, whose support will be crucial in any transition to democracy, have made increasingly loud calls for light to be shed on the secret dialogue.

    "It's difficult for everyone else to have the patience and forbearance to deal with this situation when we don't have a great deal of information to go on," the diplomat said.

    "The mood here is one that we have to be very patient and we have a long way to go," he said, adding however that fears Aung San Suu Kyi could call an end to the contacts appeared to be unfounded.

    "I don't think Aung San Suu Kyi is about to call the talks off. That would be a very serious step and I think she probably think it's better to keep them going even if they're not making much progress," he said.

    Razali wrapped up his visit with a meeting at NLD headquarters with six members of the party's Central Executive Committee. The three other members, including Aung San Suu Kyi, are being held by the regime.

    Before flying out of Yangon in the early afternoon, he paid a final call on Foreign Minister Win Aung.
    UN Envoy Ends Visit ToBurma, Silent On Result

    YANGON, Myanmar (AP)--A U.N. envoy left Myanmar Monday after talking with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi as part of his effort to end the country's political deadlock.

    But envoy Razali Ismail has remained silent on the content of his separate talks with Suu Kyi and members of the ruling military junta since he arrived on Friday.

    Just before leaving Yangon, Razali met with six executive committee members of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy at the party's headquarters.

    "I have come to visit the NLD. I will not speak here. The U.N. in New York will make a statement on the results of my visit," Razali told reporters.

    Razali met with Suu Kyi Saturday and Sunday, each time for about two hours. He held talks with Secretary One Khin Nyunt, the No. 3 man in the ruling State Peace and Development Council, for an hour Saturday.

    His meeting with the six NLD officials, including central committee secretary U Lwin, lasted an hour.

    Until October, the junta had consistently refused to negotiate with the opposition if Suu Kyi took part. The change of heart is believed to have been brought about by Razali, a Malaysian, as well as Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad.

    Razali was seen off at the airport by deputy Foreign Minister Khin Maung Win.