Daily News-May 02- 2001- Wednesday

  • ACTU makes May Day Burma call
  • HMS urges Government to talk Burmese junta on forced labor tussle
  • Burma Junta admits talks with opposition
  • Burma tribe takes over bank and airline
  • Burma Cuts Gasoline Quota For Private Cars
  • SURAKIART IN BURMA : Overtures rejected
  • Three Thais killed in border clash with DKBA
  • Burmese foreign minister hold news conference on ASEAN talks
  • Asia's military governments meet as Pakistan leader arrives in Burma
  • Pakistan military chief arrives in Burma
  • Pak. naval ships in Burma on eve of Musharraf visit
  • Thai Army Vows Retaliation After Killings By DKBA Rebels
  • Thai, Burma drug trade row escalates as foreign ministers meet
  • Burma troops take Shan rebel base near Thailand
  • Burma Says US Support Pledge Emboldened Thailand

  • ACTU makes May Day Burma call

    From AAP- 01may01

    THE ACTU today called on Australians to boycott travel and ban all trade with Burma as part of an international union protest against human rights abuses in the country.

    ACTU president Sharan Burrow told a May Day rally in Melbourne more than one million people in Burma were subjected to forced labour on construction projects including tourism projects.

    "It's time travel companies and travellers took a stand," she told the rally.

    Burma's president of Federation Of Trade Unions, U Lla Oo urged Australian companies to sever commercial links with the Burmese junta.The ACTU supported the call and said out of 50 companies only eight had indicated they had no ties.

    "Government and international agencies that provide aid, development funds and investment are accomplices of the forced labour and human rights violations," Mr Oo said at the rally.He called on Australian workers to join the international trade union movement in endorsing the International Labour Organisation governing body decision of global action and demanding the military regime of Burma to release all detained political prisoners and trade jailed trade union leaders.
    HMS urges Government to talk Burmese junta on forced labor tussle

    New Delhi, May 1, 2001
    Mizzima News Group (www.mizzima.com)

    Showing solidarity with the Burma Campaign called by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), the Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS) has condemned the Burmese military junta for continued use of forced labor in the country and urged the Government of India to take up the forced labor issue with the junta there.

    The HMS, which claims to have more than four million memberships from 2300 trade unions all over India, expressed its concern over the "persistent" violations of human rights and trade unions rights by the Burmese junta. It has also urged all units and affiliated unions in India to protest against the violations of trade union rights in Burma on their May Day programs.

    Last year, the HMS-affiliated Calcutta Port Shramik Union activists and dockworkers blocked the entry of two Burmese ships in the Calcutta Port for several hours in protest against the suppression of trade union rights in Burma.

    The Brussels-based International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) is organizing an International Day of Union Action for Burma today (May Day) to pressurize the national and multinational companies to stop doing with the business in Burma. "(I)t is impossible to maintain business relations with Burma without directly or indirectly supporting forced labor in Burma", said the ICFTU.

    It said that over 800,000 Burmese women and men, in all age, are subject to forced labor everyday and any attempt to carry out trade union activity in the country is savagely repressed by the military junta.

    Interestingly, trade union of the ruling political party of India, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), voted against the Burma resolution of the International Labor Organization in June last year.

    The ILO's resolution demanded the Burmese junta to end forced labor in the country or face stringent worldwide actions. Similarly, in July last year, the Indian government banned a trade union meeting planned to be held in Calcutta by the Asia-Pacific Regional Organization of ICFTU in support of democracy in Burma.
    Burma Junta admits talks with opposition

    source : ABC-AM - Tuesday, May 1, 2001

    LINDA MOTTRAM: Burma’s hard-line military junta has admitted for the first time that it has been talking to opposition forces led by Aung San Suu Kyi. But western diplomats are concerned about the fate of the process. The government though has passionately rejected claims that it’s stalled.

    From Rangoon, South-East Asia correspondent Geoff Thompson reports:

    GEOFF THOMPSON: The vague new feeling of optimism about Burma’s political future has filtered through to the streets of Rangoon.The feeling that after more than a decade of deadlock, change may be coming.

    At the new Mr Guitar Bar, owner Nat Maung Sein is speaking of hope.

    NAT MAUNG SEIN: For the politics now, everybody think that now this appears better because the government negotiate with Aung San Suu Kyi. I think they hope for a better future.

    GEOFF THOMPSON: But optimism is no longer being expressed by most western missions in Rangoon. Diplomatic sources say there is practically a consensus among them that the dialogue process has bogged down. The key concern is that Rasali Ishmail, the Malaysian UN envoy who kick-started the dialogue, has not been allowed to return, and that only 30 or 40 members of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy have been released from the gaols where at least 1,500 remain.

    In a rare acknowledgment of the dialogue’s very existence, Burma’s Foreign Minister Win Aung has denied the talks have stalled.

    WIN AUNG: It’s not correct. It’s not stalled. And we hope that this process which is very much complex and delicate, should be left and discussed right now because the fate of the country much depends upon this.

    GEOFF THOMPSON: A report is typed up at the National League for Democracy’s party headquarters. With Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest and most of her senior leadership in jail, only 70-year-old executive committee secretary U Win is left to speak for his boss.

    U WIN: All is, she explained was the situation what we are facing today, and that is delicate and fragile and so we should not query our own process.

    GEOFF THOMPSON: All diplomatic sources say no-one knows exactly what’s going on, except Aung San Suu Kyi and a few generals from the ruling SPDC. But few believe the process has progressed beyond confidence building.

    There remains one sign of change. Burma’s state press is still refraining from its once regular tirades against Aung San Suu Kyi.

    For AM this is Geoff Thompson in Rangoon.
    Burma tribe takes over bank and airline

    Financial Times; May 1, 2001

    The ethnic Wa hill tribe in Burma - once dubbed "the world's biggest gang of armed drug traffickers" - have taken over a bank and a domestic airline, underlining the importance of drug money in a troubled economy.

    The United Wa State Army has taken control of the ailing Myanmar Mayflower Bank in Rangoon and its 21 nationwide branches. The group's other interests include a third of the country's only GSM phone project, lucrative gem mining concessions and, reputedly, nightclubs in the capital.

    The Wa chief, Pao Yu Chang, has also recently taken direct personal control of the unprofitable Yangon Airways.

    "Drug traffickers have taken over more and more of the legitimate economy, and are getting more brazen about it, over the last couple of years," said a drug analyst.

    The Wa were the footsoldiers for the Communist party of Burma until they overthrew their ethnic Chinese Communist masters in 1989. Fearing that the thousands of tough fighters - headhunters a couple of generations ago - would link up with rebel groups on the Thai border, the military government quickly agreed a dozen ceasefire deals, with the Wa and others, that allowed them a free hand to do business - which in the Shan state often means drugs.

    The regime also permitted "retired" former drug warlords, such as Lo Hsing-han and Khun Sa, to, at the very least, plough their drug profits into a variety of businesses. The Burmese military claims that alone it does not have the strength to suppress big traffickers such as the Wa, who will "voluntarily" stop within a few years anyway.

    The US State Department's latest narcotics review says that "drug profits formed the seed capital for many otherwise legitimate enterprises" especially in transport, banking, hotels, real estate and airlines.

    The US senators who sent President George W. Bush a strong letter warning not to ease sanctions said "strong evidence" linked the regime to trafficking. Some observers are less sure about whether significant drug money ends up in generals' pockets, although even spokesmen for the regime admit that soldiers in the field often "tax" traffickers.

    The government claims that militarily its hands are tied yet it has been able since the mid-1990s to clear more than 300,000 villagers off a great swathe of land in the middle of the state to try to suppress a small rebellion by "unapproved" ethnic Shan.

    Worryingly for Thailand, it has permitted, perhaps encouraged, the Wa and their Chinese business associates to move many thousands of hill tribe families down from their headquarters base area to the Thai border. This is ostensibly to make it easier to grow non-opium crops but Thai intelligence agents claim it supports a build-up of Wa drug factories close to the Thai border.
    Burma Cuts Gasoline Quota For Private Cars

    YANGON (AP)--The official quota of gasoline for private cars has been reduced from three gallons a day to two gallons a day, an energy ministry official said Tuesday.The quota reduction, which became effective Tuesday, wasn't officially announced in the media, and many car owners found out about the change only when they went to top up their tanks at their local gas stations.

    The energy ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that government cars would also face a decreased quota effective from Tuesday, but he didn't know the size of the cut.

    The reason for the change wasn't made known, but Myanmar's foreign exchange reserves have come under pressure from a fall in the value of the national currency, the kyat. The kyat is trading at record low free market rates of about 640 to one U.S dollar, more than a hundred times the official exchange rate, dealers said.

    The official exchange rate remains about 6 kyats to the dollar, but most business and consumer transactions are based on the rate quoted on the black market, which is tacitly tolerated by the government as necessary to carry on business.

    The reduction of the gasoline ration is likely to result in higher taxi fares and higher prices for basic commodities.

    Another official who also didn't want to be identified said that the reduction was an apparent effort to prevent wastage.

    With limited domestic oil production and tight foreign exchange reserves. Myanmar suffers from a constant fuel shortage, so gasoline is sold under a rationing system in Yangon. Each car has a ration book for making daily purchases.

    Owners of both private cars and government cars who don't need their full quota sell their excess fuel to black market gasoline sellers, from whom people with demands greater than their quota buy it at inflated prices.A gallon of gasoline which is bought under the quota system at 180 kyats can fetch 400 kyats per gallon on the black market.

    The sales of excess quotas are used by some government officials as well as private citizens to augment their incomes.

    Myanmar, once one of the region's important oil producers, produced 32,000 barrels of crude per day in1979, but production has declined to about 18,000 barrels per day while domestic fuel consumption has increased.

    According to the most recent official figures available, there were 107,284 cars in Yangon in December 1998, three times the total 10 years earlier.

    To meet the shortfall, the government regularly buys crude from abroad, usually from Malaysia and South Korea.
    SURAKIART IN BURMA : Overtures rejected

    source : The Nation

    Foreign minister's efforts to ease border tensions draw cool response from Rangoon in wake of latest accusation . Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai's fence-mending mission to Burma was doomed to failure, with Rangoon remaining cool to Thai efforts to ease tensions, a government source said yesterday.

    Surakiart told Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra by telephone that the Burmese response was less forthcoming than he had hoped and that higher-level talks may be necessary, the source said.

    Surakiart began his first official visit to Burma yesterday, holding informal talks with the ruling State Peace and Development Council's intelligence chief, Kyin Nyunt, and Foreign Minister Win Aung.He also toured the northern capital of Mandalay and Rangoon's Shwedagon pagoda. Today he is scheduled to call on junta leader Gen Than Swe.

    His visit, which follows the Asean foreign ministers' retreat in Rangoon, had already been marred by Rangoon's latest accusation: that the Thai Army fired shots into Burma to protect Shan rebels fleeing Burmese troops.

    Meanwhile, Deputy Defence Minister Yuthasak Sasiprapha confirmed that Deputy Prime Minister Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh had asked Army Third Region Commander Lt Gen Wattanachai Chaimuenwong to use less aggressive tactics toward Burma to help efforts aimed at resolving problems related to drug trafficking and rising tensions along the border.

    Yuthasak said many simmering issues, if aggravated, had the potential to increase mistrust between the two countries. "If the border situation is tense, then our chances of forging a better understanding with Burma are slim," he said.

    Burmese troops' encroachment on Mae Sai district in Chiang Rai province in February during a flanking attack on Shan rebels enraged Wattanachai. Backed by the government's stepped-up campaign to stem the flow of drugs from areas controlled by Rangoon-allied ethnic Wa soldiers, the commander said an estimated 700 million methamphetamine pills churned out in jungle refineries inside Burma flowed into Thailand each year.

    The Third Army Region command later directed several operations to seize methamphetamines and heroin produced in Burma.In the latest move, the Army fired several shots across the Burmese border as a warning to Burmese troops fighting the Shan rebels, who are based opposite Chiang Mai's Fang district, not to fire shells into Thai territory. Rangoon claimed the Thai firing was meant to provide cover for the rebels.

    Yuthasak said Chavalit was concerned that the hard-line approach would further aggravate the situation at the border, especially during the dry season, when fighting inside Burma typically intensifies and often spills over into Thailand.
    Three Thais killed in border clash with Karen group

    BANGKOK (Reuters) - Three Thai soldiers were killed and five wounded in a brief clash with intruding ethnic Karen guerrillas near the border with Myanmar on Tuesday, military officials said.

    They said about 50 armed fighters of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), a Myanmar-based guerrilla group operating along the border, had entered western Tak province and launched a predawn attack on Thai troops and villagers in the area.

    About 20 houses were also damaged in the clash. The DKBA is allied to the ruling military government in Yangon and carries out attacks on anti-government rebels of the Karen National Union operating in the border area.

    Officials said the DKBA incursion was an apparent retaliation for a recent Thai crackdown on illegal trafficking in stimulant pills by the DKBA along the border. They said the Thai authorities had in April seized nearly 10 million methamphetamine pills during two raids in border areas near Tak. Thai forces fired mortars at a DKBA base inside Myanmar in retaliation.
    Burmese foreign minister hold news conference on ASEAN talks

    BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom; May 1, 2001

    The Vietnamese and Burmese foreign ministers held a joint news conference in Rangoon on 30 April at which they reported on the recently-concluded informal talks in the Burmese capital of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) foreign ministers.

    The Vietnamese foreign minister, who is current chairman of the ASEAN Standing Committee, decribed the talks as "constructive". The Burmese foreign minister said matters discussed had included the fight against drugs and the need to find alternatives for those who depended for their livelihood on opium production. The following is an excerpt from a report by Burmese radio on 30 April

    Foreign Minister U Win Aung explained that since the meeting was an informal one no resolutions and declarations were passed. He said there were free exchange of views and ideas among the individual ministers at the meeting. He said the annual Foreign Ministers Meeting will be held in Hanoi in July this year. He noted that the last meeting of the ASEAN foreign ministers was at the ASEAN Summit in Singapore last November. He said there would be a gap of eight months the meeting held in last November and another to be held in July 2001.

    U Win Aung noted that two new foreign ministers have joined since the last meeting in Singapore - the new Thai foreign minister and the Philippine foreign minister. He extended a warm welcome to the two new ministers.

    He explained that the most important issue discussed at the meeting was ASEAN integration and views were exchanged on the issue. Furthermore, he said, views were exchanged on regional and international affairs and the meeting resulted in better understanding. He said the narcotics issue was also discussed, including the ASEAN vision for the final eradication of drugs by the year 2015.

    He said strengthening of ASEAN unity was also discussed. He said the ASEAN members had gone through a difficult period since the 1997 economic crisis and the region has emerged gradually out of that period. He said there is a need further to strengthen ASEAN solidarity.

    In response to questions from the journalists, Foreign Minister U Win Aung explained that Myanmar has a 15-year plan for drug eradication which started in 1999 and is expected to end in 2014. He said ASEAN hopes to be drug-free by the year 2015. He said the drug eradicaiton programme of Myanmar has been achieving some outstanding results. For instance, opium production has noticeably declined and this has pushed up the price of opium and heroin. He said we have the political will to carry out the drug eradication programme with determination.

    He said we have the programme for drug eradication and that it will be necessary to change the way of thinking of those who depend for their livelihood on opium cultivation. Instead of banning opium cultivation, we should provide them with assistance to change their lifestyle. He said we need to change their way of life. U Win Aung said we had drawn up an appropriate regional drug eradication programme and a meeting of six Memorandum of Understanding nations will be held. He said the meeting will review the drug eradication situation.

    U Win Aung noted that the leaders held consultations at the Singapore Summit and discussed two-tier conditions for development for developed and undeveloped countries or original members and new members. He saidASEAN members view their organization as a united entity and that ASEAN cannot be viewed as a two-tier organization. He said we would like to see all ASEAN member nations developed as a whole. These are the views of the leaders. Assistance should be extended to neighbouring countries. More developed countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Brunei, and Indonesia should help the new countries which are not yet developed.

    U Win Aung said one issue which we have now come up with is human resources development and there is a digital divide in information technology and said there were offers of the trainers' training programme. He said there are many factors which are helpful in our ASEAN investment area. There is also the issue of ASEAN integration to help members to come into the mainstream of ASEAN. These are very comprehensive and we are now happy that the process of integration is going well. We cannot say that the process can be achieved overnight. It has to be viewed in the long term. He said we have the will to do that and all our ASEAN members are becoming more and more united in stand, in position and exchange of views and we feel that we all are friends.

    Source: Radio Myanmar, Rangoon, in Burmese 1330 gmt 30 Apr 01
    Asia's military governments meet as Pakistan leader arrives in Burma

    YANGON, May 1 (AFP) - Pakistani leader General Pervez Musharraf arrived in the Myanmar capital Tuesday for a three-day visit aimed at building bridges between Asia's two military governments.

    The visit represents a bid by the Myanmar junta for recognition outside the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) which it joined four years ago.

    Musharraf is the first non-ASEAN leader to travel to Myanmar since 1988, when it earned the ire of the international community for disallowing the results of an election which Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition won in a landslide.

    Also in town this week is an 800-strong contingent from the Pakistani navy who arrived aboard a destroyer, a tanker and a submarine -- in the first foreign naval visit to Myanmar in 14 years.

    The high-profile Pakistani presence here this week has given rise to speculation that Myanmar is looking to buy more weapons from its South Asian counterpart, which was the first nation to supply it with arms after 1988.

    Wild fluctuations in the value of the kyat currency against the dollar last week sent rumours flying around Yangon that a military-linked agency was buying up greenbacks to pay for the deal.

    The value of the kyat plummeted on the black market from 500 against the dollar to 720, prompting the government to round up more than 70 currency dealers to curb the speculation and settle the currency at around 600.

    However, analysts said Musharraf's visit was more likely to be a getting-to-know-you exercise than a venue for making major decisions or inking arms contracts.

    "I doubt there will be any important discussions on anything except general cooperation," said Myanmar-watcher Chayachoke Chulasiriwongs from Thailand's Chulalongkorn University.

    "When you look at the geographic position of the two countries, they are far apart. I think this is more or less trying to improve relations ... It would be to the benefit of Myanmar to get more recognition with other countries."

    Chayachoke said the generals in Yangon would continue to rely on China -- their main provider of weaponry and a key sponsor against the punishing sanctions that have brought Myanmar's economy to its knees.

    "I doubt if there'll be any military cooperation. China has been helping support the Myanmar government on weapons sales," he said. However, he said that during his three-day visit Musharraf may work to ensure that Pakistan is not left out as India moves to tighten its relationship with Myanmar.

    "Although India is aiming at balancing power with China, it means the two countries are leaving Pakistan out. Pakistan would like to come into this triangular relationship," he said.

    Musharraf's visit, the first by a Pakistani leader since late military ruler Mohammad Zia ul Haq came here in 1985, will be followed by a two-day trip to communist Vietnam.Officials in Islamabad said the tour "reflects Pakistan's desire to further strengthen bilateral relations and cooperation with the countries of the region."

    Musharraf is scheduled to hold talks with Myanmar's leader Senior General Than Shwe, chairman of the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), and its influential first secretary Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt. He will also lay a wreath at the mausoleum of the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar and visit defence service academies at Mandalay in northern Myanmar.
    Pakistan military chief arrives in Burma

    YANGON May 1 Kyodo - Pakistan Chief Executive Gen. Pervez Musharraf arrived in Yangon on Tuesday by special aircraft for a three-day goodwill visit.

    The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) Chairman Sr. Gen. Than Shwe and government members welcomed the Pakistani military leader and his delegation at the airport, Myanmar News Agency said.

    Soon after arrival at the state guesthouse, the first secretary of Myanmar's junta, Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt, paid a courtesy call on the Pakistani leader.

    Later, Musharraf is to call on junta chief Than Shwe at the parliament building where bilateral agreements for economic and technological cooperation will be signed.

    On Wednesday, the Pakistan delegation will visit Mandalay and Maymyo in central Myanmar where they will visit military establishments in addition to cultural sites. They are to return to Yangon on Thursday to proceed to Vietnam.

    Musharraf, who seized power in Pakistan in a bloodless coup in October 1999, is the second senior leader from a non-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) country to visit Myanmar since the military takeover in 1988.

    Chinese Prime Minister Li Peng visited Myanmar in December 1994.

    Musharraf's visit was preceded by a goodwill visit of a flotilla from the Pakistan Navy, including a destroyer, a submarine and two support ships, from April 27 to 29. A 16-member Pakistan National Defense College delegation led by Gen. Raza Muhammad Khan also paid a weeklong visit from April 23.
    Pak. naval ships in Burma on eve of Musharraf visit

    The Hindu (New Delhi)May 1, 2001
    By Atul Aneja

    NEW DELHI, APRIL 30. Within days of the maiden visit to Myanmar by the Pakistan Chief Executive, General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistani warships are concluding a visit to Yangon. The warships, Tipu Sultan, a destroyer, and Sushak, a Daphne class submarine, are holding joint manoeuvres with the MyanmareseNavy in the Bay of Bengal.

    The Pakistani tanker, Mobin, is also part of the flotilla. These ships will move out of the Myanmarese waters tomorrow, when Gen.Musharraf is expected to arrive in Yangon. After concluding his visit to Myanmar, Gen. Musharraf will move on to Vietnam.

    The presence of the Pakistani warships has evoked a mixed response within the Government. The Navy, on its part, has ``noted'' the presence of the warships, but is taking the visit in its stride. It is of the view that port calls in general are ``routine'' and these ships have been sent by Pakistan to participate in a maritime defence exhibition at Singapore.

    However, another section within the security establishment is not taking such a benign view. It is pointed out that the visit should be looked at ``politically'' and not in isolation. One view that is being expressed is that Pakistan, through the ship visit, is sending a signal to India of its intent to influence its eastern neighbourhood. Pakistan, it is said, has ever since the emergence of the Sheikh Hasina Government in Bangladesh,looked for a toe hold along India's eastern neighbourhood. Not surprisingly, it has made a concerted effort to cultivate Myanmar, a country with which its ``all weather'' friend China has close ties.

    Pakistan, sources point out, is involved in training officers of the Myanmarese Air Force as well as army personnel in long gunnery courses. It has supplied arms and ammunition worth 2.5 million dollars in March-April 1999 and two of its delegations visited the Coco Islands in 1997-98. A surveillance radar at Coco islands monitors India's missile tests at Balasore. Prior to the naval visit, a Pakistani defence college team had also visited Myanmar.

    The visit by the Pakistani vessels has been preceded by a high profile visit by a Chinese military delegation which left Myanmar last week. Led by the Deputy Chief of the PLA General Staff, the eight-member team concluded its annual visit to Myanmar in late April. The delegation has also toured Nepal and Sri Lanka. Besides,a Chinese submarine reportedly surfaced at the Myanmarese port of Sittwe recently.

    Sources point out that the accent of the Musharraf visit may be on expanding the military cooperation with Myanmar, though Pakistan may also offer its expertise in the agriculture sector to Yangon. During the visit, Gen. Musharraf is expected to visit the Bahadur Shah Zafar memorial and offer a donation for its renovation.

    ``Realists''within the Indian establishment say that New Delhi cannot expect Myanmar to be unduly inclined towards it. Nevertheless, it does expect Myanmar,especially after recent high profile visits, to show sensitivity to India's security concerns.

    India, for instance, would resent either China or Pakistan to meddle in an area west of the Chindwin river, a key tributary of the legendary Irrawady. That would mean exposing India's troubled north east, especially Nagaland, to external forces. New Delhi will also find Pakistani access to the strategic Coco Islands unacceptable.

    Trade between India and Myanmar also needs to be expanded, though the Myanmarese, soon after the visit of the External Affairs Minister, Mr. Jaswant Singh, in February, have committed to sell 50,000 tonnes of rice for the north eastern States.
    Thai Army Vows Retaliation After Killings By DKBA Rebels

    MOLITHAI, Thailand (AP)--A Thai general threatened retaliation after three villagers from Thailand were killed and five injured early Tuesday when pro-Burma ethnic Karen guerrillas clashed with Thai border security forces.

    "We have lost three people but the intruders will lose more, the retaliation for this will be tough," Lt. Gen. Wattanachai Chaimuanwong, commander of the 3rd Army region in northern Thailand, told reporters.

    The Thai army and villagers said the ethnic guerrillas of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, or DKBA, attacked a Thai military checkpoint at Molithai on the Thai side of the border, about 350 kilometers northwest of Bangkok, and battered the civilian settlement with rocket propelled grenades.

    Two Thai soldiers were injured in the attack. It wasn't clear if the DKBA suffered any casualties.

    Wattanachai said the DKBA launched the attack because it was angered that the Thai army had seized large quantities of the illegal stimulant methamphetamine from them in the past few weeks and was threatening them over the drugs.

    Thailand alleges that Burma isn't doing enough to stop heroin and methamphetamines crossing their shared border. Burma says it does all it can and accuses Thailand of blaming it for domestic problems such as addictions and drug-linked crime.

    The attack was also apparently in retaliation for an assault by an anti-Rangoon rebel army, the Karen National Union, on a DKBA border base April 22 that killed four people in Burma. Burma claimed Thailand supported that raid.

    Some 1,500 Thai villagers, all from the Karen ethnic minority that lives on both sides of the border, were evacuated to a schoolhouse seven kilometers inside Thailand.

    The injured Thais were being treated at local hospitals.

    "The army will submit a protest letter and at the same time the retaliation at the scene will go on," said Gen. Wattanachai, saying the military activities had nothing to do with a meeting in the Burmese capital Rangoon which was being attended by the foreign ministers of Thailand, Burma and other Southeast Asian nations.

    "We are not fighting against Burma, but we will retaliate against the DKBA because Burma lets the DKBA administer that area, which is rich from logging, mining and drug producing," Wattanachai said.

    The Burmese government gave no immediate comment about Tuesday's incident, which has heightened tensions at the border, where a string of skirmishes have soured bilateral relations.

    Burma's regime claims that the Thai army has been escalating the military situation by supporting different groups of anti-Rangoon rebels against Burmese forces, which Thailand denies.

    Among the groups it believes Thailand helps is the KNU, which has been fighting for autonomy in Burma for five decades. The DKBA is a pro-Burma army that was set up by disgruntled KNU fighters.

    Meanwhile Wednesday, Burma denied reported allegations by the Shan rebels that it was using chemical weapons against them. The regime dismissed the claims as "sensational accusations," in a statement received in Bangkok.

    The Bangkok Post quoted the Shan State Army as claiming its guerrillas had developed rashes and breathing difficulties after being exposed to smoke and dust from Burma shells.
    Thai, Myanmar drug trade row escalates as foreign ministers meet

    Rangoon, May 2 (AFP)

    Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai met with his Burmese counterpart Win Aung here Wednesday amid an escalating bitter row over the drug trade along their common border.

    Surakiart's trip, on the heels of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in Rangoon, was aimed at clearing the air between the two neighbours after months of wrangling.

    The trouble began in February when fighting between rival ethnic militias operating along the border -- both reputedly involved in the drugs trade -- sparked a rare clash between the two national armies.

    Some 700 million methamphetamines pills churned out in jungle refineries inside Burma are estimated to make their way into Thailand each year, feeding an addiction crisis estimated to affect six percent of the population.

    High-level talks went some way to easing the tension, but renewed conflict in the border region in past days has threatened to cause a further deterioration in relations.

    On Wednesday the military regime launched a fresh attack on Thailand, accusing its troops of raiding border outposts alongside ethnic groups including the Shan State Army (SSA) and the Karen National union (KNU).

    Thailand's Third Army used heavy artillery to provide cover for the raids, deputy chief of military intelligence Kyaw Win said in a press briefing.

    "They are using both ground forces as well as artillery to attack these outposts, and have now gone one step further by announcing they have found drugs at these outposts," he said.

    Thailand was "trying to smear the name of the military government by accusing it of being involved in drugs," said Colonel San Pwint from the Office of Strategic Studies, the military's think tank.

    "It is a deliberate effort by the Thais to blame Myanmar because they cannot handle the drug problem in their own country."

    San Pwint dismissed Thailand's claims that it only fired warnings shots to prevent fighting from spilling over the border, saying the lightning raids had seen up to 500 artillery rounds unleashed in a single day.

    The campaign was aimed at impressing United States anti-narcotics agencies and "bringing down the censure of the international community on Myanmar," he said.

    The fighting is expected to die down in the next few weeks as the monsoon seaon begins, hampering the movement of government and rebel troops around the rugged border region.

    But San Pwint hinted the Burmese regime would step up military action if the trouble persisted.

    "Our nation has no intention of antagonising our neighbours ... but if they, together with insurgent elements, continue to attack our outposts we will retaliate against all those using arms against us," he said.

    After spending the first day of his trip on a tour of Burma's historic sites, Surakiart met Wednesday with Win Aung and was due to see the junta's influential chief of military intelligence Lieutenant-General Khin Nyunt.

    Hanging over their heads will be the angry accusations traded between the neighbours, and Thailand's claims that Burma has turned a blind eye to the narcotics trade which it rates as its number one threat to national security.

    Thailand's new Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra fired the opening salvo in the debate early this year by declaring a "war on drugs" and ordering officials to find ways to close down the narcotics trade.
    Burma troops take Shan rebel base near Thailand

    Source : MSNBC / Reuters

    BANGKOK, May 2---Burma's government forces in eastern Shan State captured a base from ethnic minority Shan guerrillas on Wednesday and were poised to take another two rebel strongholds near the Thai border, Thai army officials said.

    Hundreds of Burmese forces launched an overnight assault on the Shan State Army (SSA) hill base, pounding it with mortar bombs, before securing it at daybreak, said Thai Colonel Chainarong Klaewkla in northern Chiang Mai province bordering Shan State.

    The fighting was part of a two-week Burma's government offensive against the separatist SSA, which operates along the Thai-Burmese border that forms part of the Golden Triangle, a hilly opium-producing area straddling Thailand, Burma and Laos.

    The Thai army said earlier this week stray mortar bombs from fighting between Burma and SSA forces landing on Thai territory had prompted it to fire numerous warning rounds back into the contested area across the border.

    Several Thai villagers in the border area have been killed by stray shelling in recent days.

    SSA officials said their forces had killed several hundred Burmese soldiers in clashes on Monday but that figure could not be confirmed by independent sources.
    Burma Says US Support Pledge Emboldened Thailand

    Rangoon (AP)--Officials in Burma charged Wednesday that Thailand began backing attacks against their country after receiving pledges of military support from the United States.

    Speaking at a news conference, they also claimed that Thai authorities have been planting illegal drugs at abandoned Burmese government military outposts to make it appear that there is official involvement in the drug trade.

    The news conference, hosted by members of the intelligence services, was held to give Burma's version of recent fighting along the border involving ethnic rebel groups that has spilled over into occasional clashes with the Thai military. It was held as Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai was visiting to hold talks with his Burmese counterpart Win Aung.

    Relations between Thailand and Burma soured badly after their troops clashed in February when Burmese forces crossed into Thailand during an attack on ethnic minority rebels.

    Thailand has become increasingly outspoken in the past year in blaming Burma for a massive influx of methamphetamines that has caused a trafficking and addiction problem so serious it is considered a threat to national security.

    Thailand publicly accuses Burma's government of turning a blind eye while ethnic minority groups produce methamphetamines and smuggle it into Thailand. Privately, it accuses Burma's military, at least at the local level, of conniving in the trade.

    Burma's military government denies the accusations.

    At Wednesday's news conference, Burmese officials suggested that Thailand undertook an aggressive strategy toward their country after receiving pledges of support from visiting senior U.S. officials late last year.

    Lt. Col. San Pwint, a member of the Office of Strategic Services, said Adm. Dennis Blair, commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, and then-Secretary of Defense William Cohen visited Thailand in Sept. 2000 to pledge support to the Thai army and to jointly carry out anti-narcotics operations with the Thai military along the Burmese-Thai border.

    "Since the visits of the U.S. officials to Thailand, the Thai army has mounted attacks along the border," he said. "Putting ethnic rebels in the front, the Thai army has consistently assisted the rebels along the Myanmar-Thai border since February, attacking small military outposts."

    San Pwint also referred to a U.S. program to train a special Thai military task force in northern Thailand to help stem the drug flow.

    In a briefing to journalists in Bangkok last week, a U.S. military spokesman stressed that U.S. troops, most from the Special Forces, are strictly trainers and will not be involved in any operations.

    The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the training exercises - in which as many as 100 U.S. personnel might be involved at any particular time - would be conducted far enough away from the Burma border that there is no way they could be mistaken for actual operations.

    San Pwint said that because Thailand was unable to solve its domestic drug problem, it was "deliberately launching a dirty campaign to defame Myanmar by overrunning military outposts and claiming drug seizures, apparently planted by them."

    He said that while Thailand initially accused the Wa ethnic groups of drug production and trafficking, it was now also accusing the Burma's army and other ethnic groups.

    Brig. Kyaw Win, director of Defense Services Intelligence, also said Thailand is launching a defamation campaign to put blame on Burma by planting drugs in the small military outposts vacated by retreating Burmese soldiers after attacks by ethnic rebels.

    Speaking in Bangkok, Thai Foreign Ministry Spokesman Norachit Sinhaseni said the accusations that Thai forces planted drugs were "groundless" and didn't merit a response.

    He said the United States provided support to Thailand by helping train its military in how to deal with the drug problem.