Daily News-June 12 - 2001- Tuesday

  • U.N. agency to test Burma's commitment on forced labor
  • Suu Kyi brother changes his demand in Burma suit
  • Talks must end mistrust, says Chavalit
  • Taleban poppy ban a boon for Burma
  • Burma's Trade with Five Western Countries Rises Sharply
  • Burmese security forces raid river boat, seize 9m pills
  • Chavalit flew Rangoon to meet top brass
  • Human Rights Watch concerned over still use of forced labour

  • U.N. agency to test Burma's commitment on forced labor


    GENEVA, June 11 -The International Labor Organization said Monday that it would send a team of investigators to Myanmar to assess progress in stopping forced labor in the country.

    The ILO ''welcomed Myanmar's decision to renew cooperation'' with the organization, but ''deplored the lack of progress in eliminating forced labor,'' said John Doohan, spokesman for the U.N. labor agency.

    Legal changes in Myanmar or Burma aimed at stopping the use of forced labor were ''a relevant but insufficient basis'' for improving the situation there, Doohan said.The ILO wanted to see legislation applied in good faith, he said.

    In an unprecedented move last November the ILO urged its 175 member governments to impose sanctions and review their dealings with Myanmar to ensure they are not abetting forced labor. The body left it up to individual governments, organizations and labor unions to determine what they will do.

    The ILO reached agreement earlier this month with the Myanmar government on a visit by an assessment team in September. But the final decision to send the team was taken during the ILO annual conference, which began last week and runs until June 21.

    The team is expected to report back to the ILO governing body in November.yanmar's military rulers have won support from fellow Southeast Asian nations that say they are serious about ending the use of forced labor.
    Suu Kyi brother changes his demand in Burma suit

    source : Reuters

    YANGON, June 11-The brother of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday changed his demand in a legal case against his sister to ask only for an ''appropriate share'' of the house she occupies in Yangon.

    Aung San Oo, an estranged elder brother living in the United States and holding a U.S. passport, had previously asked in early April for half the property and the right to administer it.

    Real estate agents say the house, in which the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner has been held under house arrest for the past nine months, is worth about $2 million.

    U Han Toe, lawyer for Aung San Oo, submitted the amended claim to the court and presiding judge U So Thein said he would decide whether to accept it on June 25.

    ''We have changed our demand from half of the property to an 'appropriate share of the property' in the amendment,'' U Han Toe told Reuters outside the court.

    The residence and compound were left by Daw Khin Kyi, widow of Myanmar independence hero General Aung San and mother of Aung San Oo and Aung San Suu Kyi.Aung San was assassinated in 1947 when the country was on the threshold of independence from Britain.

    The court dismissed a previous suit by Aung San Oo in January on the grounds he had filed the case on the wrong form.

    The dismissal of the suit in January was widely interpreted as a sign Myanmar's military government was easing its crackdown on Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD). The NLD won Myanmar's last democratic elections in 1990 by a landslide but has never been allowed to govern.The government now insists the suit is a family affair and says it will not intervene.

    U Kyi Win, Suu Kyi's attorney, said the defendant would not object to the amendment ''so long as the amendment does not change the very nature of the suit.''
    Talks must end mistrust, says Chavalit

    Bangkok Post - Thailand; Jun 11, 2001


    Thailand and Burma must urgently embark on confidence-building measures to dispel mutual mistrust and restore understanding, Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh said yesterday.

    "The present state of mistrust and wide suspicion, each side questioning the other's sincerity in tackling problems on the common border, must not be left unresolved," Gen Chavalit said. "It would only further affect our relationship."

    He was confident that discussions during the visit to Rangoon by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, scheduled for June 19-20, would help restore mutual confidence and pave the way for lasting stability along the border.

    "If we talk openly and frankly, we can resolve our suspicions. I have no doubt that the PM's visit will bring extraordinary success. It will be the government's benchmark for a new era in bilateral co-operation," said Gen Chavalit, who will accompany the prime minister.Burma was welcome to raise any suspicions about Thailand's sincerity. Both sides should speak frankly, Gen Chavalit said.

    The economic potential of the Greater Mekong Sub-region - northern Thailand and Burma, southern China, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, was immense. All stood to benefit from peace and stability and co-operation between regional governments.

    "We need to build mutual trust and confidence before we can strive together for regional prosperity. Cross-border development will benefit us all," he said. The minister tried to dispel the "misconception" that Thailand was backing the anti-Rangoon rebels of the Shan State Army (SSA).

    "Why would we back this minority group? It's clear to us they don't have a chance to win against the Burmese army and set up an independent Shan State," he said.

    Gen Chavalit is known to have befriended the late Gen Saw Maung, who was the first chairman of Burma's State Law and Order Restoration Council, now termed the State Peace and Development Council.

    "If the Burmese government has any suspicion that we may be training SSA rebels in Fang , they're welcome to visit the camp to check it out for themselves," he said. One of the concrete measures envisioned by Gen Chavalit is the opening up of border areas subject to suspicion to joint Thai-Burmese inspection, and possibly patrols.

    "If we have a suspicion about some border area, let us see it. If they have a suspicion on any particular site, they're welcome," he said. The minister was optimistic Rangoon would respond positively to the government's initiatives.
    Taleban poppy ban a boon for Burma

    South China Morning Post
    Monday, June 11, 2001
    WILLIAM BARNES in Chiang Mai, Thailand

    Opium growing in Burma's Golden Triangle is set to boom under the benign eye of its military regime following Afghanistan's decision to eliminate its poppy fields, Western, Thai and opposition sources on the Thai border claim. The ruling Taleban's decision automatically anoints Burma as the world's premier opium supplier, despite at least three years of poor growing weather.

    Moves by thousands of families belonging to the drug trafficking ethnic Wa minority from the traditional poppy heartland off China to just north of Thailand have also spread the opium production area.

    "Heroin is definitely coming back up this year. I am very angry," said General Wattanachai Chaimuanwong, commander of Thailand's northern Third Army.

    Burma's military Government has claimed that its own eradication efforts have been largely responsible for a 38 per cent drop in its Golden Triangle opium production since 1997. The regime's powerful intelligence chief, Lieutenant-General Khin Nyunt, told a narcotics conference in Rangoon last month a "universally acknowledged" drop in production was down to the authorities' efforts, including the destruction of 4,444 hectares of poppy fields last season.

    The US State Department says that Burma produced 1,085 tonnes of opium last year, less than half the peak output in 1989 of 2,400 tonnes. The Burmese Government has promised to wipe out drug production in the country by 2014. Yet most foreign observers say the fall in production is mostly a result of drought. "I've seen the poppy plants. Small, poor things," said William Snipes, the Bangkok head of the United States' Drug Enforcement Administration.

    Although the Burmese authorities have undoubtedly cleared some poppies fields and co-operated in some small crop substitution schemes initiated by the United Nations Drug Control Programme, many informed observers say they still turn a blind eye to much drug production.

    This is partly because tough, well-armed and partly autonomous former rebels such as the United Wa State Army continue to produce both opium and amphetamines in great quantities and partly because many Burmese army units blatantly co-operate with the traffickers.

    "Many of the old drug warlords believe that amphetamines are a passing fad, that heroin is here to stay. The acreage of poppy fields hasn't dropped at all. It is just that the yields have been terrible," said a Western narcotics expert in Chiang Mai. "The demand is still there. We do see a lot more stuff going out through Rangoon now," he added.

    The Taleban has destroyed perhaps 100,000 hectares of poppies this year in a country that overtook Burma as the world's premier opium source following the "retirement" of notorious drug warlord Khun Sa in 1996.Opium growing, and production of its derivative heroin, never really paused in Shan state even if the players, the alliances and the drug routes have changed.

    Mr Snipes said that Burmese heroin prices had been rock solid for the past two years. The Golden Triangle currently supplies only a quarter of the heroin sold in the US and Europe, but it could easily pick up the slack left by Afghanistan and by similar actions in Bolivia.

    "The problem will migrate to another angle of the world and it is very likely that it will be our corner," said the UN Drug Control Programme's regional representative, Sandro Calvani. Many observers on the Thai border consider the debate in diplomatic circles about the depth of the cash-strapped Burmese regime's involvement in the drug trade as sterile when they hear so many reports of soldiers in the field assisting drug producers.

    "I've heard lots of refugees [in Shan state] say that Burmese soldiers either ordered them or encouraged them to grow poppies," said Kam Harn Fah, the director of the Shan Human Rights Foundation."Sometimes they tell them they must co-operate with this or that trafficker. Sometimes they say it will be good business for you," he said.

    The Burmese and their Wa allies have been shifting families - 50,000 so far - south to lush land near the Thai border so that they can grow not poppies but citrus fruit and the like. Yet this may be exacerbating the drug production problem. "In reality when they come close to Thailand they are still planting opium in the mountainous areas," complained General Wattanachai.

    Heroin trafficking out of Burma has been overshadowed since the mid-1990s by the dramatic surge in the production of amphetamines. The drug, however, remains so prized for its purity that in recent years traffickers have been willing to risk sending Afghan heroin to Bangkok to be bleached and sold as "Burma white".
    Burma's Trade with Five Western Countries Rises Sharply

    YANGON, Jun 11, 2001 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- Bilateral trade between Myanmar and five western industrialized countries -- the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany and France -- totaled 142.3 million U.S. dollars in the first two months of this year, up 123.8 percent from the same period of 2000,according to the latest government-issued Economic Indicators.

    Of the total, Myanmar's import from the five countries amounted to 63.96 million dollars, while its export to them was valued at 78.34 million dollars, enjoying a trade surplus of 14.38 million dollars.

    The bilateral trade between Myanmar and the five western industrialized countries during the two-month period accounted for 18.5 percent of Myanmar's total foreign trade which was registered at 769.15 million dollars.

    Of them, Myanmar's bilateral trade with the U.S. represented the highest volume with 66.26 million dollars or 8.6 percent of Myanmar's total foreign trade, followed by that with Japan 58 million dollars or 7.54 percent, with U.K. 10.26 million dollars or 1.3 percent, with Germany 4.75 million dollars or 0.61 percent.

    During the period, though there was import from France with 3.03 million dollars, the export to that country was nil.

    The U.S. stood as Myanmar's fourth largest trading partner after Thailand, Singapore and China and was followed by Japan and Republic of Korea during the two-month period.

    According to official statistics, in 2000, Myanmar's total foreign trade, including the border trade, totaled 4.086 billion dollars, of which its bilateral trade with the five western countries amounted to 614.2 million dollars, accounting for 15.03 percent of Myanmar's total foreign trade during the year.
    Burmese security forces raid river boat, seize 9m pills

    Source : Bangkok Post

    Burmese security forces seized nine million methamphetamine pills from a Chinese vessel on its way down the Mekong river to Chiang Rai's Chiang Saen port on Sunday, PM's Office Minister Thammarak Issarangkul na Ayuthaya said last night.

    The boat, loaded with agricultural products from China, was searched while it was moored at Mueng Pong in Burma, opposite Mueng Mom in Laos.

    Gen Thammarak, who is responsible for the government's drug suppression drive, said he was pleasantly surprised by the seizure.

    "The amount of ya ba seized is quite enormous, and this clearly demonstrates Burma's determination to tackle this problem," he said.

    It was earlier reported that 900 kilogrammes of precursor chemical were seized from the vessel.

    Gen Thammarak, who last month led Thai delegation for the UN-organized drug meeting in Rangoon, said the seizure was methamphetamines.

    He was confident the coming visit to Burma by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra this month would mark a new era of border co-operation, especially against drugs.

    Gen Thammarak last month led a Thai delegation to a United Nations-organised drug meeting in Rangoon.

    "During my trip to Burma last month, I was convinced by my meeting with senior Burmese officials that our premier's trip will be a great achievement for this government," said the former chief of the armed forces security centre.

    Gen Thammarak, who will accompany Mr Thaksin to Rangoon on June 19-20, said the drug problem could not be effectively tackled unless "we get full co-operation from our friends."

    He was hopeful the misunderstanding and mistrust between the two countries would be resolved during Mr Thaksin's visit.

    He was confident the visit would mark a new era of border co-operation between Thailand and Burma.

    A naval source said the drug seizure on Sunday confirmed reports that traffickers were using the river as a new route for drugs and precursor chemicals shipped directly from Burma.

    A police source in Chiang Rai said the vessel's captain and about 10 members of the crew were taken to Tachilek, opposite Mae Sai, in Chiang Rai province, for questioning by Burmese authorities.

    The boat which was raided is known locally in Chiang Saen as the Shiang Hai Nie Haow.

    It is reportedly owned by a Chinese man named "Yang" who resides in Chiang Mai's Fang district.

    "We are checking his connections in Chiang Saen," a local police officer said.

    Chiang Saen port is a transit point for Chinese goods shipped from China down the Mekong river.
    Chavalit flew Rangoon to meet top brass

    Source : Bangkok Post

    Thailand Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh flies to Rangoon on Monday to pave the way for Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's visit later this month.

    Gen Chavalit will meet Gen Than Shwe, chairman of the State Peace and Development Council, Gen Maung Aye, the Burmese army commander, and Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt, secretary one of the ruling State Peace and Development Council.

    Major issues for discussion during Mr Thaksin's June 19-20 visit include drug suppression and border demarcation.

    Gen Sommai Wichaworn, armed forces chief-of-staff, was in Rangoon over the weekend for preliminary talks on arrangements.

    Mr Thaksin wants to sign a memorandum of understanding on drugs, but Burma wants Thailand to acknowledge it is not to blame for a drug production base. Rangoon also wants an admission that many of the chemicals and equipment used in drug production come from Thailand.

    Thailand also plans to propose the demilitarisation of the disputed one-square-kilometre Kuteng Nayong area, in Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai, and a permanent ceasefire in the 32-square-kilometre Doi Lang area of Mae Ai district, Chiang Mai, pending demarcation.

    Meanwhile, the two sides have agreed to stop criticising each other through the media, a source said.

    Army commander Gen Surayud Chulanont has also instructed Third Army chief Lt-Gen Watanachai Chaimuanwong to maintain the peace in border areas to improve the atmosphere for the coming talks.
    Human Rights Watch concerned over still use of forced labour

    Source : South China Morning Post

    Burma was still using forced labour as recently as May, despite the military government's official ban on the practice eight months ago, Human Rights Watch said overnight (HK time).

    The rights group urged business and labour leaders and member states of the International Labor Organisation to press the government of Burma to enforce the October 27, 2000, ban.

    It said in a statement that Burmese officials should allow independent monitors to verify compliance with the ban. The group urged foreign companies from investing in the country until forced labour had ceased - and independent monitors could verify that.

    ''The international community should keep up the pressure, and until all forced labour is ended and this has been independently verified, foreign companies should refrain from investing in Burma,'' said Sidney Jones, executive director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch.

    Human Rights Watch said migrants entering Thailand from Mon, Karen and Arakan States, and Pegu and Rangoon Divisions of Burma said they had personally taken part in or had witnessed forced labor between February and May 2001.

    One migrant from the city of Martaban told the rights group that in late April a local official had forced him and a group of others - including workers as young as 10 years old - to dig trenches.

    The migrant said several of the 20 military police supervising the work struck two men with batons and kicked them, Human Rights Watch reported.

    Burma issued its ban on forced labour in October. Previous orders prohibiting the practice in 1995 and 1999 were never enforced.