Daily News-June 13 - 2001- Wednesday

  • Forum-Asia places hope in Thai PM's Burma trip
  • Maneeloy exiled Burmese students center to close
  • Thai PM's visit aimed at fence-mending
  • Child soldiers in Burma's front line
  • Chavalit cancels Burma visit
  • Malaysia Court rejects Burmese guilty plea of causing shipmate's death
  • US Congressman filed the bill to curb state pension investment connected to Burma
  • Goldmine for ACeS in Burma
  • Ivanhoe Plans $ 400 million Injection in Burma Mining Sector

  • Forum-Asia places hope in Thai PM's Burma trip

    Source : Bangkok Post

    A regional human rights group was confident Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra could forge closer ties with Burma during his visit to Rangoon.

    After a meeting yesterday with the Bangkok-based group, Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said the government hoped an increase in people-to-people contacts would bridge the gap between the two nations.

    Gothom Arya, adviser to the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum-Asia), said bilateral dialogue should be promoted in various tracks both in secret and in the open.

    "Exchanges of cultural and religious activities would be good channels."Ahead of the prime minister's visit to Rangoon on Tuesday, the Bangkok-based NGO insisted true peace and democracy would not be ensured unless the Burmese government co-operated with the opposition party and the ethnic minorities.

    "We're willing to help support the reconciliation process, if we're allowed to do so," he said.

    Mr Surakiart said the NGO could discuss the matter with Burmese diplomats in Thailand or Foreign Minister Win Aung, but it should not interfere with Burma's domestic affairs.

    Any initiative should be in line with that of the United Nations secretary general's special envoy Ismail Razali, Mr Surakiart said.

    Forum-Asia also pushed forward the establishment of the Asean human rights mechanism and hoped the Asean ministerial meeting in Hanoi would deal with the issue.

    They raised the pending ratification of the Rome Statute, which would require Thailand to co-operate with other signatories to bring those who committed crimes against humanity to international trial.
    Maneeloy exiled Burmese students center to close

    Source : Bangkok Post

    The Maneeloy holding centre for Burmese students in exile will be closed in September, the Interior Ministry's foreign affairs division said.

    The closure was discussed yesterday by Pairoj Promsan, deputy interior permanent secretary in charge of security, and Jahanshah Assadi, representative of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

    Nirand Kallayanamitr, head of the foreign affairs division, said the centre had sent 5,800 students to a third country since 1992.

    Only 400 students remain. The centre would be closed tentatively in September after the last batch leaves, Mr Nirand said.

    Only 400 students remain. The centre would be closed tentatively in September after the last batch leaves, Mr Nirand said.
    Thai PM's visit aimed at fence-mending

    Source : South China Morning Post

    Thailand's prime minister will visit Burma next week hoping to clear the air and improve often stormy relations between neighbours that have been enemies for centuries.

    Thai Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh said on Wednesday he believed the trip would put relations on a much better footing.

    "I believe the bilateral relationship will start with a new page in history after the visit," Mr Chavalit, a former army chief, told reporters.

    Relations between Thailand and Burma have deteriorated since Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was elected in January on a promise to "wage war against drugs."

    Thailand says most of the drugs pouring into the country from the notorious Golden Triangle region, where Thailand meets Laos and Myanmar, are made by ethnic minority groups inside Burma.

    Mr Thaksin addressed the nation in a weekly radio show last weekend and said talks with Burma's military government would focus on curbing the drugs trade.

    Mr Thaksin's two-day visit to Burma from Tuesday will follow trips to Laos on June 12 and Cambodia on June 18.

    Mr Chavalit said on Wednesday he was "100 per cent" confident Mr Thaksin's trip would yield success.

    He said "the clouds will disappear" after his Burma trip.

    Mr Chavalit, who says he has good personal relations with various Burmese military leaders, says the most important issue for both countries was to build trust before both nations could iron out other issues.

    "The border problem is a minor issue, but we should understand each other more at first," he said.

    Thailand sent reinforcements to its northern border with Burma after recent fighting between Thai troops and a pro-Burma government ethnic militia group, the United Wa State Army, which is accused by Bangkok of being a major producer and supplier of methamphetamine stimulants and heroin.

    Burma disputes this and in turn accuses rebels along the 2,400-kilometre Thai-Burma border of being the region's main drugs producers.

    The latest row, which further soured already tense relations, occurred last week when a Burmese school textbook described Thais as lazy and opportunistic.

    Since coming to power in January's landslide election victory, Mr Thaksin has promised to stem the flow of an estimated 700 million methamphetamine tablets entering Thailand each year through its porous northern border.

    Mr Chavalit on Tuesday denied local press reports that he would join Mr Thaksin for the Burma trip, saying he would instead travel to China.

    Thai newspapers on Tuesday reported that Thai Foreign Ministry officials objected to Mr Chavalit's inclusion in the Burma trip, saying they did not want Thai foreign policy to be seen as military-dominated.

    "There is no reason for me to go. Even if I went, I would not add any more contribution," he said.
    Child soldiers in Burma's front line

    Source : CNN

    HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- Burma has the world's highest number of child soldiers, with children as young as seven years old working as human shields, sex slaves and fighters.

    The southeast Asian country, known as Burma, has 50,000 child soldiers working for both government and opposition armies, according to a report released Tuesday by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers.

    "In Burma the situation is unique because the desire for more independence from the government goes along with armed ethnic groups struggling to identify themselves in various locations," Judit Arenas, spokesperson for the Coalition told CNN.

    "This makes it one of the worst and most complicated situations around the world."

    Burma won independence from Britain in 1948 and has been ruled by the military in various guises since 1962.

    In 1988 the military crushed a pro-democracy uprising and in 1990 refused to recognize elections that gave the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy, a landslide victory.

    The political stalemate has continued for over a decade. NLD leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi has lived under house arrest on and off for several years and the military often detains opposition members.

    While Myanmar's army has a compulsory recruitment age of 18 years old, many young children are being enlisted to fight in battles raging across the country.

    The "God's Army", a breakaway Karen group led by two 12-year-old twins, focused world attention on the plight of child soldiers fighting for ethnic armed groups when they took over 700 hostages in a Thailand hospital in 2000.

    Human shields

    While some children are recruited voluntarily for Burma's armed forces, others, especially orphans and street children are vulnerable to what is called "forced recruitment."

    Under this scheme, local authorities in Burma are required to provide the government with a certain quota of recruits, the report says, and are fined if they fail.

    "A lot of these children are street children, they won't stand up and complain," said Arenas.

    "Children are scared so easily, they are very obedient, and they are very good for this type of guerrilla warfare as they are small, very agile on feet, and can get into places, grown-up soldiers can't."

    The ILO Commission has reported that children act as human shields and minesweepers. They also carry ammunition and fight on the front lines. Girls are being raped by soldiers, the ILO adds.

    The former U.N. special rapporteur on Burma, Rajsooner Lallah, has slammed the country's torturing, trafficking and forced labor of children.

    Ethnic battles

    Children are also used as soldiers outside the army, for opposition groups such as the Mong Tai Army and the Karen National Union (KNU).

    While many opposition forces have accepted ceasefires with the government, others control their territory with arms and breakaway forces continue to fight against the government.

    Child refugees, like these Karen kids, won't stand up and complain "There is the tribal struggle, with some ethnic groups having the right to patrol territories and carry arms," Arenas told CNN.

    The Mong Tai Army is believed to have the largest number of child soldiers, with one son required from each family. Children in Shan State receive education in exchange for military service later.

    The KNU guerrillas led by young twins, Johnny and Luther Htoo, is believed to recruit many children, although the twins themselves surrendered and returned to live with their parents.

    Burma's record comes despite the U.N. General Assembly adopting a protocol in May 2000 calling on governments to prevent anyone under 18 from taking part in combat.

    But the UN says while 79 countries have signed the protocol, only six have ratified it.

    Forced labor

    The child soldier report comes one day after U.S.-based Human Rights Watch condemned Burma for still using forced labor, despite an official ban on the practice imposed eight months ago.

    The group has urged foreign companies to stop investing in the country until the practice is stopped -- and independent monitors can verify that.

    This come in the wake of the U.S. State Department in February criticizing Burma for harshly repressing its citizens by denying them the most basic social and political freedoms.

    But Burma on Tuesday criticized the Human Right Watch report, saying its "constant negative attitude, irresponsible actions and unrealistic expectations are in fact hampering and depriving the people of Myanmar of their rights to development and prosperity."

    Burma's military has presided over a steadily weakening economy, as international investment has plunged and economic sanctions appear to have hurt the government and people alike.
    Chavalit cancels Burma visit

    Source : The Straits Times

    BANGKOK- - Thailand's Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh yesterday cancelled his plans to visit Burma.

    Mr Chavalit, who also serves as Deputy Premier, was due to fly to Rangoon on Monday ahead of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's June 19-20 visit.

    instead, he will remain in Thailand and stand in for the Prime Minister while Mr Thaksin is away.

    'Defence Minister Chavalit will not go to Myanmar as he has to be Acting Prime Minister while Prime Minister Thaksin is away,' Deputy Defence Minister Yuthasak Sasiprapa said.

    He did not explain why one of Mr Thaksin's other four deputies could not stand in for the Premier when he begins his three-nation tour in Cambodia on June 18.

    The Burma trip is the most sensitive leg of the tour which will also take Mr Thaksin to Laos next Wednesday and Thursday.

    Mr Chavalit, a former army chief, is reputed to have a good working relationship with the generals in Rangoon. These links had been expected to help foster cordial relations between the junta and Mr Thaksin's administration which came to power in the January elections.

    However, the neighbours have been embroiled in an increasingly bitter row over who is responsible for the rampant border drugs trade.
    Malaysia Court rejects Burmese guilty plea of causing shipmate's death

    Source : The New Straits Times

    Kuching--The Sessions Court today rejected the guilty plea of a Burmese ship officer accused of causing the death of his shipmate early this year.

    Sessions judge Yew Jen Kie rejected the guilty plea of Hlato (No full name in the charge sheet) when the officer denied kicking shipmate Saw Bernard Law after the latter had fallen to the ground after a scuffle.

    Hlato, who is unrepresented, denied kicking Law when the facts of the case was read to him by the court intepreter.

    The judge then fixed July 9 for hearing.

    Hlato had earlier pleaded guilty to the culpable homicide not amounting to murder of Saw at Jalan Ban Hock here at 4am on Jan 26.

    The facts of the case, presented by prosecuting officer ASP Ng Ah Lek, stated that the accused had a fight with Law over taxi fare.
    US Congressman filed the bill to curb state pension investment connected to Burma

    Source : Boston Globe

    Several bills to make the $30 billion state pension fund more socially accountable - by requiring divestiture of investments in firms doing business in Burma and imposing proxy voting policies - will be the subject of a State House hearing today.

    The proposals are part of a longstanding effort to make the Massachusetts plan more responsive to social concerns and reflect a growing interest in so-called socially responsible investing.

    The bills are among dozens of pension-related bills being heard at 1p.m. today. To address human rights violations in Burma, and in response to a US Supreme Court ruling last year that struck down a 1996 Massachusetts anti-Burma law, Representative Byron Rushing filed the bill to require the pension fund to divest itself of companies doing business in Burma. The high court said the Bay State law interfered with US foreign policy.

    ''We should be on record as continuing to support the restoration of democracy in Burma,'' said Rushing, a Boston Democrat.

    The Pension Reserves Investment Management (PRIM) board is bound to ''invest state pension assets for the exclusive purpose of providing benefits to members of the retirement system,'' said Dwight Robson, spokesman for state Treasurer Shannon P. O'Brien, who is responsible for the fund. But if the Legislature requires divestiture, ''then obviously PRIM will implement that mandate,'' he said.

    Three other bills would require the treasurer to make proxy votes public, to vote against corporate boards that aren't diverse, and to vote in favor of certain shareholder resolutions.

    Robson said that the proxy votes are already public, and that while PRIM supports equal opportunity, ''absent a specific mandate from the Legislature, it would be tough to achieve consensus on an actual policy'' on diversity.
    Goldmine for ACeS in Burma

    Source : The Nation

    Burma's ethnic minorities think nothing of paying as much as Bt80,000 for an ACeS handset and Bt40 per minute for calls. The amount is like small change to them.

    Ethnic minority groups along the country's borders are a goldmine for regional satellite-based mobile-phone operator Asia Cellular Satellite (ACeS), said Somsak Padhana-anek, acting president of ACeS Regional Services (ARS), ACeS' service operator in Thailand and Indochina.

    ARS is an offshoot of Jasmine International Plc, one of the four founders of ACeS.

    ARS has 1,500 subscribers in the region, 80 per cent of them Thai. But the proportion is likely to change soon.

    Somsak projected that by the end of this year ARS would sell 2,000 handsets in Burma, up from 200 at present. Total sales in Indochina are forecast to reach 7,500.

    The optimistic projection is based on strong demand among Burma's minority groups, who are in need of reliable communications devices as they live in tough border terrain and who have high purchasing power.

    Demand is so high they are happy to pay between Bt70,000 and Bt80,000 for ACeS handsets and Bt40 per minute in call charges.

    ARS' Thai subscribers pay just Bt40,000 per handset and Bt18 per minute in connection charges.

    Most ARS services are post-paid, but the firm will soon be switching to a pre-paid phone, which it says is easier to use.

    The pre-paid phone service was launched in Burma last month.

    ARS next plans to promote the service in Laos and Cambodia.

    "We're negotiating a partnership deal with the Laotian government to jointly distribute ACeS handsets," Somsak said.

    The countries of Indochina show strong potential because of their poor fixed-line facilities and low competition from other mobile-phone operators.

    In a separate development, Jasmine's new president, Phongchai Sirinaruemitr, said the firm was considering selling all of its 33 million shares, or 11.73-per-cent stake, in ACeS.

    "If we can make a profit from the sale, it'll be interesting. But if we do, the sale will not affect ARS' business," he added.
    Ivanhoe Plans $ 400 million Injection in Burma Mining Sector

    Source : Tin Maung Htoo, Burma Media Association (BMA) Via Burmanet

    The Canadian Mining Company that invested in Burma is now planning to inject huge amount of dollars into their ongoing mineral business with a new project, a move seemed to be a vital for hard-currency-starving Burmese regime while investments in Burma have sharply declined with 52.54 percent early this year.

    "This would represent the single largest foreign investment in Burma since international oil cartels developed two offshore natural gas fields in Burma in the Andaman Sea in the mid-nineties," said Mr. Eric Snider. Mr. Snider, a leading shareholder activist in Vancouver, sent a letter to Dr. Rey Pagtakhan, the Secretary of State (Asia-Pacific) at Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, advising the minister hold on the government's support, until there has been a significant change in the country. He also suggested the minister take necessary action in line with the ILO's resolution toward Burma, in which Canadian representatives took active role to pass the resolution at the conference.

    In 1998 Canadian government announced a limited economic sanction against Burma, restricting import and export, but no exact restriction upon further investment was specified. According to some experts citing the existing Canadian constitution, Canada can only impose a full economic sanction against a foreign country under two special conditions; they are when the UN Security Council decides to do so or external elements come to threaten to Canadian' internal security.

    The Secretary of State, also known as the junior minister responsible to Asia-Pacific region, is reportedly planning to meet with Ivanhoe's president Dan Kunz on June 13, 2001 to overview the company's proposed plan. Meanwhile, Burma activists in Vancouver are planning to carry out a demonstration this Friday, as the 2001 shareholders meeting of Ivanhoe is to take place on June 15, 2001 at the Pan Pacific Hotel in Vancouver. "We are planning to hold Ivanhoe accountable for the unscrupulous behavior by staging a demonstration for the annual general meeting on June 15," Aaron James, the demonstration organizer, stated.

    He explained that Ivanhoe's Monywa copper mine is one of the largest sources of foreign currency to the military regime, profiting from environmental destruction, slave labor, and exploitation of workers, and that is therefore, he said, undermining the foundations of life of the people of Burma.

    Last year September, Canadian Friends of Burma and Mining Watch Canada released a report about destructive effect of Ivanhoe's Monywa copper project, and that provoked the Ivanhoe company to challenge the pressure groups to withdraw the report or face with a lawsuit. The company said, "the purpose of the documents is to try to influence decision makers in Canada and to try to hoodwink media."

    Amid mounting pressures, the company's stock promotion effort is still going on - not only merely to maintain the existing business, but also earnestly to stretch out with hundreds of millions of dollars - down playing any concern forwarded from pressure groups. On June 6, 2001, the company president gave an interview with a local radio station in an attempt to lure more shareholders into a new project.

    "Letpadaung is a cornerstone of our strategy of building a low-cost, world-scale copper business. The first phase, the S&K Mine, has been very successful, becoming one of the world's lowest-cost primary copper producers since its start-up in 1998." said in the company's report. The Letpadaung project, the second phase of Ivanhoe, is projected to value $ 389 million, and aimed at additional production of 125,000 tonnes. So far a Japanese and Chinese company are said to have interest to cover financing and construction. The first phase of the S&K Mine Project is operated a 50/50 joint venture between Ivanhoe Mines and the state-owned Burma Mining Enterprise No. 1. It produced 20,715 tonnes in 1999 and planed to increase by 40% to 35,000 tonnes a year.

    The company stated, "there had never been a better time to be in the business of mining. While technology has changed many things, including mining, the need is greater than ever for basic metal such as copper and steel- essential building blocks of modern economies."

    Mr. Snider, however, warned shareholders "you have to have a strong stomach to invest in smaller resource companies. Unions, religious groups, ethical funds and others who get involved with this kind of thing with companies like Unocal steer away from the likes of Ivanhoe because of the risk involved."

    He also pointed the company's downing stock trend, "when Ivanhoe was just getting the Monywa mine set up in 97 the stock traded in the C$ 17-19 range. Right now it's around C$ 2."

    According to the company's latest report, copper cathode production at the Monywa mine was down slightly in the first quarter of 2001 but expected to rise during the whole year to a level of 28,300 tonnes.

    Nevertheless, Monywa copper project, one of the largest copper producers in Asia, is in fact not only vital for the existence of Burmese military rulers, but also indispensable for the Ivanhoe company since the major projects, its derived profit, and future prospect mainly locate in Burma.