Daily News-June 15 - 2001- Friday

  • Maung Wuntha,Dr Saw Mra Aung and other political prisoners freed
  • Hacker attacks online survey on Burma tourism
  • Ivanhoe must withdraw from Burma
  • Thai PM offers to help Burma solve ethnic problems
  • ‘No rift between ministries’
  • Burma opposition figure released from jail after UN envoy's visit

  • Maung Wuntha,Dr Saw Mra Aung and other political prisoners freed in Burma


    YANGON, Myanmar, June 14 — Myanmar's military government has released several political prisoners, including a writer and an 83-year-old member of an alternative parliament, family members and opposition party sources said Thursday.

    Soe Thein, a legislator from the opposition National League for Democracy who once edited the official newspaper in this Southeast Asian country, was freed Wednesday night after serving five years in detention, family members said.

    Soe Thein, a writer also known as Maung Wuntha, appeared to be in good health after his release from Insein Prison outside Yangon, said a relative, speaking on condition of anonymity.

    About eight other political prisoners were released Thursday, including 83-year-old Dr. Saw Mra Aung, one of the country's oldest political prisoners, said members of the National League for Democracy. One of his daughters, contacted by telephone, said he was in good health.

    The releases marked the third batch of political prisoners freed since January. A group of 84 National League for Democracy members were freed from Insein Prison in January and 16 more were freed in March.

    The initial releases followed the start of talks between National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the military government. The talks were revealed in early January by U.N. special envoy Razali Ismail.

    Like Soe Thein, Saw Mra Aung was a member of Parliament from the 1990 general election that the military declined to honor, never allowing the legislative body to convene. The National League for Democracy won a landslide victory in the polls.

    Saw Mra Aung was speaker of the National League for Democracy's 10-member Committee Representing People's Parliament, which claimed the right to act on behalf of the Parliament. Authorities had detained him since soon after the committee was formed in 1998.

    The identities of the other released prisoners were not immediately available.

    A well-known writer and journalist, Soe Thein is in his mid-50s. Last October, the Paris-based press freedom group Reporters San Frontieres — Reporters Without Borders — had said Soe Thein was critically ill after suffering a heart attack in his cell. The group said he was jailed under a national security statute that provides for indefinite periods of detention without trial, but other sources said he completed serving a five-year prison term. Soe Thein was editor of the official newspaper Botahtaung before being dismissed in 1988 because of his support for the pro-democracy movement.
    Hacker attacks online survey on Burma tourism

    By Tin Maung Htoo
    Burma Media Association
    June 12, 2001

    Online survey initiated early this month by an Australia travel agency, Intrepid, regarding 'yes' or 'no' question on tourism in Burma was attacked by a hacker, an official of the survey informed BMA today.

    "The poll figures are totally skewed by a 'hacker' putting a 'robot' onto our poll that voted 'no' every 5 seconds for some time. We've taken the poll down for the time being as this menace jammed our web- site. We hope to have a realistic poll back up soon," said Jane Crouch, Responsible Travel Coordinator of Intrepid Travel Ltd.

    BMA closely monitored the poll proceeding at its outset and found a few days later that the poll was abruptly shut down without any immediate announcement on the web site. BMA noticed that it was the time during which more people were rolling on into the poll site, partly because of the poll exposure of BMA and other activists on media and Internet.

    When BMA checked out the result the last time on June 9, the 'no' answer was overwhelmingly prevailing over 'yes' - with almost a thousand vote in margin - 1126 versus 199. However, within another a few hours, the survey was gone; instead of that, other Burma related page was put in place, and that make a big surprised for all people coming over to the polling page. Although the Intrepid's claim of being hacker-attacked in favor of 'no' vote, they still need to provide some evidence as the case is so sensitive for hundreds of thousands of Burma democracy advocates who are opposing foreign businesses entering into Burma without considering human rights and political once.

    As a matter of the fact, anyone who wanted to vote in the survey had to enter the name and email address before being able to vote, and if hacker-attack was taken place, they could follow and check those entering email addresses as to whether they are fraudulent or not.

    What BMA learned from the poll is that hundreds of people, along with their names and emails, not only voted in the survey against the reinstatement of tourism business in Burma, but also expressed reasons for opposing it, which could be still seen on the travel agency's web site

    One of the Burma activists who went to vote for this survey said, " we would need to find out the company's actual intention for doing this survey as the fact that they seem to be ambiguous and zealous to go back and do business in Burma."

    Intrepid travel agency that decided to suspend its trips to Burma in 1999 after a review of the political situation in Burma started its business in Burma in 1995 and stated the business was successful and profitable for the company. The company's Responsible Travel Coordinator Crouch said that they didn't know if they made the right decision two years ago. When they decided to withdraw, they made a commitment to review their decision within two years and said now is the time to get feedback whether to resume the abandoned-but-profitable business in Burma.

    However, the seeking feedback they have now obtained is widespread and obvious that they should not go back to Burma until and after a positive change in Burma is overcome. Presumably, the only thing that left for the company is to keep their previous ethical decision, along with announcing the poll outcome.
    Ivanhoe must withdraw from Burma

    OTTAWA AND WASHINGTON, D.C., June 14 /CNW/ - On the eve of Vancouver- based Ivanhoe Mines Ltd.'s (TSE: IVN) annual shareholders meeting, the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) and the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM) today called on the company to withdraw from Burma.

    In a letter sent to Ivanhoe Chairman Robert Friedland, Ken Georgetti, CLC President, and Fred Higgs, ICEM General Secretary, said the company's joint venture with the Burmese military regime in the Monywa copper mine provides funds for the coffers of a regime that has been irrefutably linked to forced labour and narcotics trafficking.

    The Monywa mine, located in Sagiang, is also linked to mass conscription of involuntary labour. According to the United Nation's International Labour Organisation (ILO), 921,753 people were forced to build the railway connecting Monywa to the town of Pakokku. The Thazi dam hydroelectric plant which is the mine's power source was built using 3,000-5,000 forced labourers.

    The labour leaders cited the decision in November 2000 by the ILO, which is comprised of unions, employers and governments, to exhort corporations to review...the relations that they may have with (Burma) and take appropriate measures to ensure that (Burma) cannot take advantage of such relations to perpetuate or extend the system of forced or compulsory labour.

    We urge you to re-evaluate your direct business relations with the Burmese military junta in light of this global consensus, wrote Georgetti and Higgs. It is the position of the global labour movement that it is impossible to do business with the Burmese government or in Burma without subsidizing forced labour and other human rights violations. Certainly in the case of Ivanhoe's partnership with the military junta, foreign investment is directly propping up the regime.

    The ICEM is a global trade union federation uniting 20 million workers in over 400 affiliated unions in 110 countries. The CLC represents 2.3 million working Canadians and their families. It is the voice of Canada's labour movement, bringing together the majority of the country's national and international unions along with the provincial and territorial labour federations.

    A recent proclamation issued by the ICEM's energy union affiliates from the Asia/Pacific region, meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, called on oil and gas companies to cease investment in Burma while the use of forced labor continues. The unions represented were from Australia, Bangladesh, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.
    Thai PM offers to help Burma solve ethnic problems

    BANGKOK, June 14- Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said on Thursday he would offer Myanmar help in trying to solve its ethnic problems, an apparent reference to curbing the drugs trade. Thaksin, who is visiting Yangon next week, said Myanmar could not control all of its ethnic groups, some of which had also caused problems to Thailand.

    ''One must admit that the Myanmar government cannot impose 100 percent control on all of its ethnic groups,'' Thaksin told reporters after a two-day visit to Laos. ''We would like to discuss with them that some of Thailand's problems cannot be solved because Myanmar cannot control (the ethnic groups). So we would like to offer to help...'' he said.

    Relations between Thailand and Myanmar have deteriorated since Thaksin 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 Myanmar. Thailand sent reinforcements to its northern border with Myanmar after fighting in February between Thai troops and a pro-Myanmar 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.

    Myanmar disputes this and in turn accuses rebels along the 2,400 km (1,490 mile) Thai-Myanmar border of being the region's main drugs producers. A new row has broken out over a Myanmar school textbook which describes Thais as lazy and opportunistic. Thaksin's two-day visit to Myanmar from Tuesday will follow trips to Laos and Cambodia. Thaksin addressed the nation in a weekly radio show last weekend and said talks with Myanmar's military government would focus on curbing the drugs trade.
    ‘No rift between ministries’

    source . the Nation

    A Defence Ministry spokesman yesterday dismissed reports that the Foreign Ministry had tried to discredit Defence Minister Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh by banning his planned trip to Burma ahead of the Prime Minister.

    Dismissing the reports as groundless, Col Chongsak Panitchakul said Chavalit was fully aware that the Defence Ministry’s role was to help the Foreign Ministry facilitate contact with the Burmese military leaders.We helped the Foreign Ministry smooth several matters leading to the finalisation of the trip,” Chongsak said.

    The spokesman said Chavalit made the decision from the very beginning he will not go to Burma in order to stay as acting prime minister when the prime minister was away. “He is fully aware not to use personal rapport to resolve problems with Burma. It is the duty of the Foreign Ministry,he said.He said the report might have been based on a misinterpretation of Thaksin’s casual statement made during a cabinet meeting : Brother (Phi) should not go to act on my behalf.

    Chongsak said Foreign Minsiter Surakiart Sathirathai had spoken by phone with Chavalit about the report and clarified that the Foreign Ministry had not prevented Chavalit from visiting Burma.A proponent of personal ties with Burmese leaders, Chavalit made it known earlier that he supported Thaksin in his haste to visit Burma to discuss controversy rushing to Burma to settle border spatessparked primarily by Thailand’s claims that Burma turned a blind eye on drug production by its Wa allies.Chavalit reportedly sent several military missions to Burma to lobby Rangoon to receive Thaksin. disregard of right protocol in which Burmese Foreign Minister Win Aung who is due to visit Thailand later this month to finalise the PM’s trip.

    A radio report yesterday quoted Thaksin as saying he wanted to get the closed Tachilek checkpoint open as soon as possible. He also said he wanted to visit Mong Yawn, the alleged drug production centre across from Mae Hong Son, after bilateral relations improve.

    Thaksin sent Surakiart and PM Office’s Minister Thammarak Issarangura in separate missions in May to patch up ties, only to find relations deteriorated into more border tensionMeanwhile, deputy Education Minister Jamlong Kruntkuntode said the ministry would take a cautious look at reviewing the content of a Burmese textbook which describes Thais as servile and lazy, hai people and the monarchy to avoid a similar row that has damaged relations between China and Japan. Jamlong admitted it was impossible for the Foreign Ministry to ask Burma to rewrite the book. History is a matter for an individual country to write. We can pass judgement on whether it is correct or not,he said.

    The ministry will review the content of the text before making a decision on what action it will take. “Any action to be taken without thorough consideration will further backfire on relations,he said.He referred to Japan’s latest history textbook for secondary school students which drew protest from Beijing. The book heaped praise on its Japanese ancestors in wars with China but did not explain why it entered the wars.
    Burma opposition figure released from jail after UN envoy's visit

    YANGON, June 14 (AFP) - The Myanmar junta has released a high-ranking member of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) on the heels of a mission made by UN envoy Razali Envoy, a party source said Thursday.

    NLD central committee member Maung Wuntha, also known as Soe Thein, left Yangon's notorious Insein jail late Wednesday after completing a five-year sentence, the source told AFP. The 56-year-old prominent journalist is the first high-level political prisoner released since Razali visited Yangon on June 1-4, in a bid to bring new impetus to the national reconciliation process.

    The NLD said before his arrival that it expected the trip to be marked with the release of sick and elderly prisoners as a goodwill gesture from the junta which last October began a dialogue with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Aung San Suu Kyi is believed to have demanded that the junta begin to release prisoners, and allow the party to re-open its offices around the country, before the contacts develop into a full-blown dialogue.

    The party source also said Thursday that the opposition now had plans to revive party activities by reopening 18 township offices and erecting flags and signboards.

    The press watch dog Reporters sans Frontieres (Reporters without Borders) said in a statement that Soe Thein's release came after his wife demanded in a letter to the junta that they free him at the end of his sentence. Political prisoners in Myanmar are routinely detained past their official release date. RSF said that while it welcomed the liberation of Soe Thein, who was jailed in May 1996 for writing articles espousing non-violent resistance as a means of promoting the opposition cause, his release should have come much sooner.

    While in detention, he suffered two cardiac arrests and was subjected to "psychological torture" at the hands of military intelligence officers, it said.

    Aung San Suu Kyi has been held under de facto house arrest at her lakeside residence since September, before the tentative contacts with the military regime began under conditions of strict secrecy. In recent months there have been a number of indications that the reconciliation talks have run into trouble after reaching a delicate decision-making phase.

    In the absence of any reliable information about the content or progress of the dialogue, observers in Yangon are watching closely for signs of releases or party activity as a barometer for the health of the process.