Daily News-June 21 - 2001- Thursday

  • Thailand and Burma 'back on track'
  • BURMA 'PEACE TALKS': PM pledges end to clashes
  • TV crew fingers junta
  • US group calls on govt to help Shan
  • Cambodia hands over 'money launderer'
  • Maritime body changes mind: Myanmar now on 'white list'
  • Big things planned for the Ayeyarwady
  • Myanmar's Private Sector Plays Leading Role in Foreign Trade
  • Thai-Burmese Joint panel to mull border reopening
  • Burma releases five more opposition politicians

  • Thailand and Burma 'back on track'

    By Jonathan Head in Rangoon
    source : BBC

    The Thai Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, has hailed his two-day visit to Burma as a success, saying relations between the two countries are now back on track.

    Earlier this year, Burmese and Thai troops were involved in clashes on their common border - both countries accuse the other of supporting drug-producing militias in the area.Mr Thaksin brought all his considerable public relations skills to bear on Burma - the country which is the Thai prime minister's biggest foreign policy challenge.

    On Wednesday morning, local worshippers at Rangoon's magnificent Shwedagon temple were clearly astonished to watch the Thai leader praying and sightseeing alongside them. It was a populist touch, unfamiliar to most people in military-ruled Burma.

    Little of substance

    But while his charm has undoubtedly helped to warm the atmosphere, Mr Thaksin was unable to walk away with any solid agreements on the issues which still divide the two countries.The memorandum of understanding they signed referred only in the most general terms to the problems of drugs, which Thailand says are produced in large quantities inside Burma and then shipped over the border. There was no mention even of the joint border patrols the Thai side had been seeking.

    Big differences

    Thailand is awash with narcotics, and Mr Thaksin has made controlling the supply of drugs a top priority. But his Burmese counterparts still insist they are not responsible for Thailand's drugs crisis. These are still two very different Asian states. One is a free market democracy; the other, one of the world's most isolated and oppressive regimes. However much they need to get along with each other, Thailand and Burma still find it hard to end their historic mistrust and rivalry.
    BURMA 'PEACE TALKS': PM pledges end to clashes

    Vorapun Srivoranart
    source : The Nation

    Not a single gunshot would be exchanged between Thai and Burmese forces along the border during his tenure as leader, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra pledged yesterday.Wrapping up a landmark two-day visit to Burma to repair the damage from a lengthy war of words, Thaksin said he wanted to ensure their relationship would return to the warmth of its heyday.

    Thaksin said that in two days of frank discussions with the Rangoon leadership, he had spoken "with the heart of a Buddhist". Talks with the Burmese leaders, especially State Peace and Development Council chairman Senior General Than Shwe had been successful in dispelling the mutual suspicion and misunderstanding over the past months.

    Burma had agreed to cooperate on every issue of mutual concern. The details would be worked out during a two-day visit to Thailand by the Burmese foreign minister Win Aung, beginning tomorrow, said Foreign Minister Surakairt Sathirathai.The two leaders signed a joint communiqué reaffirming "traditional ties of friendship and goodwill" between the two countries which share 2,401 km of common land border. Thaksin said the document was historic in that it implied the damaged ties had been overcome and both sides would focus on cooperation rather than conflicts. "Everything is about attitude," he said.

    "From now on you will see the Thai-Burmese relationship back to its best and it will continue to develop in the future," he said, adding he was greatly impressed by the warm welcome the Burmese authorities had accorded to him which was "beyond expectation".

    During the official visit, Rangoon had put up what officials described as "the greatest reception ever" for the Thai leader against the backdrop of the fiery tensions of recent months.Thaksin said his main inspiration to go against domestic odds in becoming the first Thai leader to visit Rangoon in four years came from a speech by HM the King last month, stressing the importance of harmony between the two neighbouring countries.According to the communiqué, Than Shwe conveyed "his warmest greetings and profound regards to HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, noting the central role of the monarchy in promoting the welfare of the Thai people and in fostering goodwill and the bonds of friendships" between the two nations.

    The Burmese leader also extended an invitation to Their Majesties the King and Queen and other members of the royal family to visit Burma. The move could be construed as an appropriate remedy in light of a series of articles published in the Burmese state-mouthpiece critical of past Thai monarchs, and the recent shelling of the Royal Project at Doi Angkhang.

    "Disputes bred an imagination of endless disputes and it came to a point of getting out of control, therefore I decided to make a quick visit," Thaksin said, adding that "face" should not come at the expense of mutual well-being.Deputy chief of PM's adviser, Gen Chetta Thanajaro, said the move to mend fences started about a month ago with Thaksin's conviction that only a summit meeting would work with a centralised state like Burma.

    The two leaders also witnessed the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on drug controls between Surakiart and Burmese Home Affairs Minister Col Tin Hlaing. Both Thailand and Burma inked a similar bilateral MoU with China last year.The measures stipulated in the agreement include prevention, suppression, rehabilitation, alternative crop schemes and information exchanges. However, Rangoon refused to exchange permanent drug liaison officers, preferring to rely more on existing mechanisms. But the Burmese leader agreed to a quadrilateral drug summit in Kunming by the end of the year between Thailand, China, Burma and Laos.

    Burma also agreed that Thailand could send an envoy to inspect areas where ethnic minorities were suspected of producing narcotics, including Mong Yawn.Than Shwe told the Thai leader the Wa was determined to reduce its narcotics activities as soon as possible and he did not want to see drugs harming future generations of Thais, said Thaksin. "Burma reaffirmed that it has nothing to do with the Wa".Both leaders agreed the border checkpoint at Tachilek-Mae Sai will be opened within a week without any conditions attached. Thaksin also invited Than Shwe to visit Thailand.
    TV crew fingers junta

    source : The Nation

    Burma's military intelligence chief and No 3 in the junta leadership, Lt General Khin Nyunt, was playing a key role in the country's drug trade, an Australian television current affairs programme alleged yesterday.

    Burmese drug traffickers enjoyed the direct protection of Khin Nyunt who had personal investments in the drug trade, the Australian Broadcasting Cor- poration's "Foreign Correspon-dent" reported.The influential programme, aired nationally last night, said the use of military personnel was in fact pivotal to the country's massive trade in drugs.

    "In the case of many methamphetamine [yaa baa] production labs, you've got Burmese troops actually guarding the plants, you've got military intelligence guys providing the escorts of the trafficking caravans, you've got MI [military intelligence] people allowing it to actually cross the border into Thailand," noted Australian defence strategist and Southeast Asian affairs expert Professor Desmond Ball said.

    Presenter Evan Williams said Thailand was so concerned by the increasing flood of yaa baa into Thailand that it was discreetly assisting the Burma guerrilla independence group Shan State Army (SSA) with training and weapons, to help stem the flow.

    SSA leader Colonel Yawd Serk had invited the "Foreign Correspondent" news crew to witness how the former drug-runners had turned drug-fighters, Williams said, and the guerrillas were filming their war against the junta to prove it.The programme aired an SSA film clip purportedly showing Thai army officers in civilian clothes conferring with Yawd Serk at his jungle base.

    Ball, attached to the Australian National University's Defence and Strategic Studies Centre in Canberra, said of Thailand's involvement: "They're providing training, weapons and ammunition; they're providing intelligence."These are for the ethnic armies to attack Burmese government posts in Burma, to attack those areas which are involved in the production of drugs - some of which do have Burmese military elements collocated with them to provide protection and support."

    It also showed film of a purported SSA midnight assault on a Burmese military post at Pakee, near the Thai border, earlier this year. After the post is overrun, the film shows an array of weapons, ammunition . . . and a "huge haul of methamphetamines bound for Thailand and stored at an official Burmese army post right on the border with Thailand", Williams says on the programme. "Such evidence is impossible for Burma's generals to dismiss."

    Ball said the US State Department said drugs provided more than 50 per cent of Burma's foreign exchange. "The scale of this activity and the sheer dependence of the Burmese economy on that drug money, we're really talking about it infusing the whole government in Rangoon."

    Williams said Thailand had appointed "tough-talking" Third Army commander Lt General Wattanachai Chaimuenwong "to stem the [drugs] flow" and to "challenge Burma's military dictators directly". Wattanachai said on the programme the amount of yaa baa coming in from Burma had increased from 200-million tablets a year to an expected 600-700 million this year. "So it is a very serious problem, a real national threat, especially for young Thai people," he said.

    Journalist and Burma affairs authority Bertil Lintner said Khin Nyunt had managed to broker cease-fire deals with ethnic armies fighting for independence by simply agreeing to allow them to do whatever business they wished, including the drugs trade."There is no doubt that the drug traffickers are enjoying the direct protection of General Khin Nyunt and that is shown in the special number plates which cars carry, the special ID cards that the leaders of the cease-fire armies carry which gives them immunity to any kind of searches at Burmese army checkpoints anywhere inside the country," he said."So Khin Nyunt is definitely involved in the movement of narcotics across the country."
    US group calls on govt to help Shan

    source : The Nation

    Thailand should provide temporary assistance to some 100,000 ethnic Shan who have fled from Burma, a senior policy analyst from the United States Committee for Refugees said yesterday.The Shan had fled to Thailand and lived like refugees, but were not accepted as such, USCR policy analyst Hiram Ruiz said.

    Yesterday was the world's first-ever Refugee Day. Including the Shan, there are some 217,000 refugees living in Thailand today.Burmese Shan began pouring over the border in 1996, fleeing a forced relocation programme in central Shan state, Ruiz said.

    Because the reasons they fled their homeland and the hardships they faced were no different to those of other refugees, the Shan needed some assistance and access to basic human services, Ruiz said.

    The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which faces a funding shortfall of about US$100 million (Bt4.5 billion) this year, appealed to countries to revive their commitment to help refugees, and to respect them and their contributions.High Commissioner for Refugees Rudd Lubbers urged affluent countries to do more.

    The USCR survey reported a total of 39 million displaced people worldwide, 14.5m of them refugees and 24.4m displaced in their own countries.
    Cambodia hands over 'money launderer'

    source : The Nation

    Cambodia yesterday handed over to Thai authorities an alleged money launderer linked to the Wa narco-guerrillas in Burma as a goodwill gesture following Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's visit to Phnom Penh earlier in the week, a senior narcotics officer said.

    Anti-Narcotics Police Commissioner General Sunthorn Saikwan said the suspect, whose Thai name is Chaturon Daenprachant, had been arrested by Cambodian police on Tuesday, the second day of Thaksin's visit, following a tip-off by Thai drug officers who had visited Cambodia earlier.Sunthorn said Thaksin had requested Cambodia's cooperation in arresting Chaturon.The senior anti-drugs officer said Chaturon - or Chang Tong-chai - and another key leader, Supot Tongvilai, also known as Jinming Sae-chang, had evaded police arrest in Bangkok and Chiang Mai in February. Chaturon escaped to Cambodia, but Supot's whereabouts are not known.

    According to the police, Chaturon is linked to drug bandit Hong Pang, based in the Burmese border town of Tachilek and a cash collector for Wa army leader Wei Hsueh Kang.

    Speaking to the press in broken Thai, Chaturon admitted he had been laundering money for the Wa for 10 years without knowing who owned the money. He said he took between 0.05 and 0.1 per cent as his cut from each transaction.According to Sunthorn, Chaturon opened a front company to conceal his underground business.

    In two separate raids in Bangkok and Chiang Mai on February 26, police detained Sunant Jaenjob and others on money-laundering charges and confiscated more than Bt30 million in cash they were allegedly sending to Wei.

    The Rangoon-allied United Wa State Army (UWSA) is a main producer of methamphetamines in the Golden Triangle bordering Thailand, Laos and Burma. About 700 million tablets of the stimulant are estimated to be flooding into Thailand this year in addition to other synthetic drugs and heroin.

    The Thaksin administration has sought closer cooperation with neighbouring states to help intercept the drug trade, which is increasingly using routes in neighbouring states to evade Thai interception at the northern border.
    Maritime body changes mind: Myanmar now on 'white list'

    Myanmar Times June 18 - 24, 2001 Volume 4, No.68
    By Myo Lwin

    THE International Maritime Organisation (IMO), which certifies seamanship standards around the world, has overturned a decision made late last year to exclude Myanmar from its 'White List' of approved nations.

    On June 4 , to the delight of local seafarers, their families and the Department of Marine Administration, Myanmar was added to the White List along with another 22 countries. The decision was made at the 74th session of the IMO's Maritime Safety Committee in London on May 31. "As soon as I heard the news I shook hands with Myanmar Ambassador U Kyaw Win and U Kyee Myint and left the meeting room, grabbed a GSM phone and sent word back to Myanmar," said Department of Marine Administration director-general Captain Soe Win.

    "If we had not been white listed, all 27 vessels of the government's Five Star Shipping line would have had to be manned by eligible foreigners," he said. "Now, everybody is happy to hear the news as the seamen's jobs are secure."

    As reported previously in Myanmar Times ('White list exclusion won't harm Employment has become more secure for Myanmar sea farers seamen', Vol 3 No 47), the 73rd session of the Maritime Safety Committee in November last year did not include Myanmar on the white list of, at that time, 72 nations with approved seafaring certification and training standards. The decision baffled local authorities, as it came in the wake of an assessment by a British Maritime and Coastguard Agency official who found the country's procedures fully satisfactory. Only 26 countries in the world had received such recognition.

    "Political reasons may have been taken into consideration during the previous 73rd session, held last November," said Captain Soe Win. "But there was not a word about the matter (this time) and 23 countries were added to the white list."

    The IMO, a United Nations agency, promulgated its Standard of Training, Certification and Watch-keeping for Seafarers (STCW) in 1995. Captain Soe Win said member states including Myanmar were told to forward their examination and certification systems to the IMO by August 1, 1998. Myanmar's procedures were amended and approved by Cabinet, and forwarded to the IMO on July 27 "well in advance of the IMO's deadline", he said. "The Merchant Shipping Act was revised on October 20, 1999 and we sent it to the IMO's 21st assembly via the director-general of our Department of Marine Administration.

    "Then, in last November's list, we were not included," Captain Soe Win said. But he said that Myanmar was invited "at the last minute" to participate in the safety committee's 74th session after making amendments to documentation, and negotiating with the chairman of the committee's Panel of Competent Persons. "We had to make two amendments to the law and issue two notifications," he said.

    Since February, all seafarer officers have been required to take two extra examinations; Proficiency in Survival Craft and Rescue Boat, and Advanced Fire Fighting. The maritime training school is at Sinmalike. A reliable source told MT a Japanese organisation was considering the investment of US$2 million in a maritime training school here.

    Owing to the impact of last December's exclusion, the number of working Myanmar seamen dropped marginally from 12,227 in 1999-2000 to 12,004. But the number of registered Myanmar sailors has increased dramatically, from 30,000 back in 1996-97 to 50,000 today , half of whom are working, with the remainder awaiting employment with high hopes to be sea bound in the near future.

    Taxes, service charges and savings from Myanmar's seafaring community saw a total of $24.71 million flow into the Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank in 1999-2000.

    The immediate effects of Myanmar's inclusion on the White List are encouraging. Two Japanese shipping companies with a combined fleet of 242 craft have agreed to hire Myanmar seamen to work on all their vessels. According to a DMA director, an ordinary seaman receives $260 per month while a captain earns $2400-$6,500 depending on his qualifications, sea service and the vessel's tonnage.
    Big things planned for the Ayeyarwady

    By Win Kyaw Oo
    Myanmar Times June 18 - 24, 2001 Volume 4, No.68

    THE establishment of a big container yard in Bhamo, on the banks of the Ayeyarwady and close to the Chinese province of Yunnan, has fuelled speculation that trade activity on the river could be set to increase.

    "The neighbouring country expects to expand trade operations for its products, via the river as a gateway to the Bay (of Bengal)," said a Yangon-based shipping manager. Three dredgers from the People’s Republic of China arrived in Yangon last week for projects linked to the development of Myanmar’s waterways.

    According to an official from the Myanmar Port Authority (MPA), who declined to be named, the dredgers were for "waterway development along the Ayeyarwady River". "We want to develop the river waterway to facilitate big container vessels up to 5000 tonnage to run its course," he said.

    The back hoe, side casting and hopper dredgers were imported by Yunan Machinery and Equipment Import and Export Corporation (YMEC). U Tin Maung Nyunt, general production manager of Myanma Shipyards, said that more machinery of that kind was needed to develop the Ayeyarwady. However, a YMEC spokesman said further orders were "yet to be confirmed".

    Meanwhile, a deep seaport in Kyauk Phyu in the Rakhine Division is under development to facilitate port operations for seagoing vessels of more than 20,000 tons. New roads are being constructed to link Kyauk Phyu to the river bank town of Minbu and then An, where there are plans to expand an existing airport.

    U Tin Maung Nyunt said Kyauk Phyu was "the best place in Myanmar for a deep sea port" because of the ocean’s calm and depth. The Ayeyarwady River originates in northern Myanmar and flows south to the Bay of Bengal and the Mottama Gulf.
    Myanmar's Private Sector Plays Leading Role in Foreign Trade

    YANGON, June 20 (Xinhuanet) -- Myanmar's private sector is playing a leading role in the country's foreign trade, accounting for a high percentage in both import and export values.

    According to the latest figures published by Myanmar's Central Statistical Organization (CSO), the private sector made up 68.68 percent of the country's total imports in value in the first two months of this year and represented 59.84 percent of the total exports in value during the period.

    The rest of the percentages were taken up by the government and cooperative sectors. Myanmar's foreign trade totaled 769.15 million U.S. dollars in the two-month period with its imports valuing at 431.15 million dollars and its exports amounting to 338 million dollars. The playing of the leading role by the private sector in foreign trade is linked to the encouragement by the government and the adoption of a policy of privatization since early 1995.

    According to official statistics, in 2000, Myanmar's foreign trade totaled 4.086 billion dollars, of which the private sector made up 76.8 percent of its imports which was valued at 2.567 billion dollars, while it took up 68.5 percent of its exports which amounted to 1.519 billion dollars. It is reported that there are 33,081 private entrepreneurs in Myanmar including exporters and importers, business representatives, companies and joint venture ones.
    Thai-Burmese Joint panel to mull border reopening

    Source : Bangkok post

    The Thai-Burmese Township Border Committee will meet in a week to discuss the unconditional reopening of three border checkpoints, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said yesterday.

    The panel would also deal with lingering doubts and misunderstandings so as to put an end to mistrust between the two neighbours, he said.

    The prime minister was speaking after his 24-hour visit to Rangoon where he had extensive talks with Gen Than Shwe, the prime minister and chairman of Burma's ruling State Peace and Development Council, and Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt, the council's first secretary.

    The three border checkpoints are Tachilek-Mae Sai, Myawaddy-Mae Sot and Kawthaung-Ranong.

    The Tachilek-Mae Sai crossing has been closed since border skirmishes in February.

    The other two have been open only occasionally.

    A memorandum of understanding on co-operation against drugs was signed during Mr Thaksin's visit.

    It provides for both sides to set up co-ordinating units at the three checkpoints. It also calls for an exchange of intelligence between drug officials posted at their respective embassies in Rangoon and Bangkok.

    Mr Thaksin quoted Gen Than Shwe as saying that the United Wa State Army was determined to reduce its drug production, but it did not have complete control over its own people.

    He told Mr Thaksin to send representatives to verify the situation at the Wa's Mong Yawn township and check out any lingering doubts.

    Gen Than Shwe also asked Mr Thaksin to convey his government's invitation for Their Majesties the King and Queen to visit Burma.

    A joint communique said Gen Than Shwe had "accepted with pleasure" Mr Thaksin's invitation for him to visit Thailand.

    Burma's Foreign Minister Win Aung will pay an official visit to Thailand tomorrow and Saturday to discuss a road network and co-operation between Thailand, Burma, China and Laos, a diplomatic source said.

    Mr Thaksin quoted Gen Than Shwe as saying that their countries could "complement" each other .

    Mr Thaksin would order Thai officials "not to regard small issues as big ones".

    "The world now is borderless but we have problems over cross-border violations of only five metres on each side," he said.

    Mr Thaksin also told Gen Than Shwe of Thailand's willingness to help Burma achieve national reconciliation.

    In a meeting with Thai businessmen in Rangoon, Mr Thaksin expressed confidence that Thai-Burmese relations would be restored to "the optimum point".

    The prime minister said he believed co-operation in economic, cultural and political affairs would develop with mutual understanding.

    He urged the 500 businessmen representing 50 companies to act in full consciousness of their Thai identity and their status as pioneers.

    The premier also called on them to help restore Thailand's relations with Burma.
    Burma releases five more opposition politicians

    Source : MSNBC / REUTERS

    Rangoon, June 21---Burma's military government released five more pro-democracy politicians from detention on Thursday in a move it said reflected progress in landmark talks with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

    A government spokesman said all five politicians were members of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) who had been elected at the country's last democratic polls in 1990.

    The NLD won the 1990 election by a landslide but has never been allowed to govern.

    ''Five more NLD politicians were this morning permitted to return home to join their families from the government guesthouses,'' the spokesman told Reuters.

    ''Government guesthouses'' is a euphemism for a loose form of detention, from which detainees are sometimes allowed to return home for short spells.

    Thursday's releases follow a similar move a week ago when eight political prisoners were freed and several opposition party offices were allowed to reopen.

    Burma's ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) has never recognised the result of the 1990 election and has detained dozens of opposition politicians since the vote.

    Many were arrested in 1998 after the NLD announced it would try to convene its Committee Representing People's Parliament of politicians elected in 1990.


    But tension between the military and NLD has eased since the start in October of secretive talks between Suu Kyi and the country's ruling generals.

    Both sides have agreed to keep the content of their discussion confidential and called a halt to public criticism of each other. In a further gesture, several batches of political prisoners have been released.

    Asked whether Thursday's release meant progress was being made in the talks, the spokesman replied: ''Yes, of course.''

    The spokesman identified the five released politicians, all men, as 57-year-old Nyan Win, Pike Chown, 54, Win Naing, 45, Aung Soe, 52, and Thein Lwin, 50.

    ''Three of them were in Yangon and the remaining two in other regions outside Yangon,'' he said.

    The authorities are still keeping the NLD's top three leaders -- Suu Kyi, Aung Shwe and Tin Oo -- under house arrest.

    The spokesman said at least a dozen other elected NLD officials remain at government guesthouses across the country.

    An NLD official said about 20 of the party's 40 offices in and around Rangoon closed since 1998 had now been allowed to reopen.