Daily News-May 03- 2001- Thursday

  • Burmese opposition breaks silence, urges democracy
  • Inside Burma: Opposition fights on
  • Conflict over Burma policy
  • Thai foreign minister plays down Burma clashes
  • INVESTMENT IN BURMA: Business feels pinch
  • SSA says Burma using chemical weapons
  • INTERVIEW: Army chief tells of Phop Phra attack
  • CE in Burma, holds talks with Shwe: MoU signed
  • Historical Gathering of Exiled Students Underway
  • Business as usual in Burma despite US sanction
  • Pakistan, Burma to forge trade relationship between military govts
  • Pakistan Leader Sees Closer Ties With Burma Regime
  • Drug fight comes first over forging ties with Burma, says Thai PM
  • Burma Troops Recapture Camp From Shan Rebels
  • Pakistan's Port Calls to Burma Stoke Tension
  • Philippines Vice President Says He Was Refused Audience With Suu Kyi
  • Thailand, Burma Agree To High-Level Meeting On Rifts

  • Burmese opposition breaks silence, urges democracy

    YANGON, May 2 - Myanmar's opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) broke a six-month silence this week by calling on the country's military government to move quickly to install democracy.

    In its first public political statement since talks between the two sides began late last year, the NLD said human rights and standards of living were suffering from the tight rule imposed by the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).

    ''It is essential for Myanmar to become a real democratic nation so that human rights and workers rights will fully flourish and political, economic and social conditions will develop soundly,'' the NLD said in a four-page statement dated May 1 and received by Reuters on Wednesday.

    ''We earnestly call on the SPDC, that has taken the state power, to work towards the emergence of a new democratic state as soon as possible,'' said the statement which was written in the Myanmar language.

    The government and opposition's self-imposed public silence on domestic political issues appeared to have been broken by both sides this week.

    On Monday Myanmar's foreign minister told a news conference the talks were at a ''complex and delicate'' stage, and denied recent reports the dialogue had stalled.

    ''It has not stalled,'' he said. ''But we hope that this process, which is very much complex and delicate should be left confidential. The freedom of the country very much depends on this.''

    Since the talks began the state-run media has stopped publishing anti-NLD commentary. A senior NLD figure told Reuters the party's leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, had asked members to avoid ''any activity that would embarrass the SPDC.''

    Suu Kyi led the NLD to a landslide victory in Myanmar's last general election in 1990 but has never been allowed to govern. The country has been shunned by many foreign governments who accuses Myanmar of systematic human rights abuses.
    Inside Burma: Opposition fights on

    By Jonathan Head in Rangoon

    Volunteers tap out a newsletter in the back of an old office in Rangoon. The office is the last refuge of the National League for Democracy(NLD), the party that won Burma's last election.

    The party won a landslide victory in the 1990 election but the military authorities refused to hand over power.Crowds still throng the dilapidated NLD headquarters, drawn in by leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who continues her campaign against military rule from house arrest. But party leaders admit that years of repression, are taking their toll.

    "We cannot keep up our membership, some are getting old, some are getting disease or something like that and some were forced by security people to leave the party," said U Lwein, the party's Executive Secretary, "so we're reduced to the very bare minimum."

    'Not stalled'

    So the news of a secret dialogue between the generals and Aung San Suu Kyi has been grasped by a people hungry for change. But after eight months and no visible progress, there are fears here that the talks may be grinding to a halt. That prompted the military regime to break its silence this week at a gathering in Burma of ministers from the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean). The regime insisted the talks were going well.

    "The question of... this process being stalled is not correct, it's not stalled. And we hope that this process, which is very much complex and delicate, should be... discussed right now," Burmese Foreign Minister Win Aung told the meeting.

    Burma now lags decades behind its neighbours. Its hard-pressed people desperately need an end to the deadlock between Aung San Suu Kyi and the military. For them the pace of political change is painfully slow.

    Burma's rulers though, are in no hurry to see an end to their control over the country. The road to a better future for its people could still be a very long one.
    Conflict over Burma policy

    source : The Nation

    CONFLICT within Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's administration over its approach toward Burma and cross-border drug problems surfaced yesterday, with Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh asking Thaksin to tell an outspoken general to ease his aggressive tactics, a government source said.

    Chavalit sought an urgent meeting with Thaksin, which was also attended by PM's Office Minister Thamarak Isarangura, the source said. Speaking to reporters, Thaksin, who has launched a high-profile anti-drugs campaign, said border tensions needed to be resolved quickly, but any solution should not affect the government's ability to fight drug traffickers.

    The meeting was called after Third Army Commander Wattanachai Chaimuenwong fired his latest salvo at Burma over Monday's raid on a border village in Tak province by Rangoon-backed armed ethnic insurgents.Chavalit was quoted as saying the rising tensions between Thailand and Burma, stemming from the government's drive to halt the flow of drugs from Burma, should be solved amicably, and not through aggressive means.

    According to the source, Chavalit said the use of military aggression would further complicate the government's efforts to patch up ties with Burma. He pointed to the scant progress made by Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai on his fence-mending trip to Rangoon this week.Former army chief Chavalit, who is known to have considerable rapport with Burmese leaders, asked Thaksin to put a stop to Wattanachai's heavy-handed antics in implementing the government's anti-drugs campaign and in dealing with border incidents.His earlier instructions to Wattanachai to scale back his aggressive tactics appeared to do little to stop the outspoken commander.

    In a move directed at Wattanachai, Chavalit has instructed a panel to investigate how anti-drug Task Force 399 came into being without his knowledge. The task force is part of joint Thai-US efforts, in which US personnel will help train Thai soldiers in anti-drug operations.

    Emboldened by Thaksin's February declaration of war on drugs produced in Burma, Wattanachai earlier reported that some 700 million stimulant pills produced in areas under the control of Rangoon-backed Wa rebels flood into Thailand each year.

    In his latest salvo, Wattanachai said he saw no point in Bangkok calling for a truce with Rangoon since the junta was not acting in good faith. "Don't you see? When high-level talks were in progress in Rangoon, they sent troops to destroy the atmosphere of the talks," the general told The Nation.Wattanachai vowed to track down members of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) who conducted the raid on Molithai village in Tak's Phop Phra district. He said the attack was aimed at diverting the Army's attention from the planned movement of 20 million speed pills through Burma's Myawaddy district. The commander also confirmed that the attack, which killed three Thai civilians and injured seven, was aimed at a Thai military outpost near the village in retaliation for the Army's seizure of more than 10 million methamphetamine tablets in Tak earlier this month.

    Describing the DKBA, which resides opposite Tak province, as a "group of bandits", Wattanachai said the group collaborated with the drug-producing ethnic Wa army in the burgeoning drug trade and had been granted a special autonomous zone within Burma by the junta. The group survived by trading in contraband logs, minerals and illicit drugs with the help of Thai traders, he said. The DKBA are using Tak as a new entry point, allowing them to transport illicit drugs to Northeast Thailand without having to enter Laos or ship them by sea to the coastal province of Ranong. Thai soldiers and DKBA fighters again exchanged gunfire on Tuesday night. No casualties were reported.

    Meanwhile, Burmese troops in eastern Shan State recaptured a base from ethnic minority Shan guerrillas and were poised to take another two rebel strongholds near the Thai border, Thai Army officials said.Hundreds of Burmese troops launched an overnight assault on the Shan State Army (SSA) hill base, pounding it with mortar bombs before securing it at daybreak, said Col Chainarong Klaewkla in Chiang Mai province, bordering Shan State. The fighting was part of a two-week Burmese government offensive against the separatist SSA, which operates along the border Thai-Burmese border in the Golden Triangle area straddling Thailand, Burma and Laos.

    Meanwhile, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Kraisak Choonhavan expressed concern over the rift between Chavalit and Wattanachai, urging them to reconcile their differences. Kraisak agreed that the Army was justified in using force to repel intruders, but warned that the strategy of raiding drug labs inside Burma was a bad one.

    Rangoon yesterday accused Thailand of waging a systematic campaign to defame Burma by helping drug-trafficking rebels overrun small Burmese border outposts and then falsely claiming drugs were found there, a senior Burmese government official said yesterday.

    During a press conference, Deputy Chief of Intelligence Maj General Kyaw Win said the drugs Thailand claims to have seized at the vacated outposts were planted after Burmese soldiers retreated. Lt Colonel San Pwint of Burma's Office of Strategic Studies, meanwhile, listed a series of incidents in which small Burmese outposts near the Thai border had been overrun by rebels under cover of shelling by the Thai military. San Pwint said the attacks had escalated since last September's visits to Thailand by then-US defence secretary William Cohen and Admiral Dennis Blair, commander-in-chief of US Pacific forces, as part of efforts to boost cooperation between the two countries' military forces to counter drug trafficking.
    Thai foreign minister plays down Burma clashes

    By Andrew Marshall

    YANGON, May 2 (Reuters) - Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai ended his first official visit to Myanmar on Wednesday insisting relations between the two governments were good despite border clashes between their soldiers.

    Surakiart arrived in Yangon on Sunday for an informal meeting of Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) foreign ministers and stayed on for bilateral talks with his Myanmar counterpart Win Aung.

    Weekend violence soured the atmosphere. Thailand's military says it fired warning shots across the border on Sunday after stray shells fired by Myanmar troops landed in Thailand.The Myanmar troops were fighting to retake three bases, just 100 metres (yards) from the Thai border, that were overrun by ethnic minority Shan rebels earlier this month. They recaptured one base on Wednesday and hoped to take the others soon.Myanmar says the Shan rebels are "drug bandits" and has repeatedly accused the Thai military of backing them.

    Surakiart told a news conference in Yangon the weekend firing -- the latest in a series of flare-ups along the border -- should not damage inter-government relations.

    "We both raised concerns over the incidents of the past weeks and we both agreed that we will make the utmost effort to ensure that incidents such as this will not occur again," he said. "Both sides are aware problems such as these should not and will not escalate to government level, and we still consider the relationship between the two governments to be friendly and cordial."


    The two sides have been trading accusations since February, when several Thai and Myanmar soldiers died in an exchange of fire between the two sides.

    Bangkok says the United Wa State Army, a militia group allied to the Myanmar government, is the source of most of the drugs flooding Thailand, and has called on Yangon to crack down.Myanmar says the Shan State Army is the region's main drugs producer. During Surakiart's visit, angry Myanmar government statements said Thai troops were backing the Shan rebels and supporting the narcotics trade.

    Myanmar's state-run newspapers joined the attack, blaming the border problems on Thais involved in the trade. "The Thai tricksters are gaining profits from the drug business and black-marketing," said a commentary in the English-language New Light of Myanmar on Wednesday.

    Surakiart said Myanmar had agreed during his visit to press ahead with trilateral cooperation with Thailand and China to eradicate drugs production in the Golden Triangle region.He said trading accusations with Myanmar was counterproductive.

    "Problems will not be resolved by... blaming each other. Problems can be resolved when both sides sit down and clarify the facts," he said. He denied that Thailand was supporting any ethnic minority militias in Myanmar.
    INVESTMENT IN BURMA: Business feels pinch

    source : The Nation
    Don Pathan

    FIGHTING Along the Thai-Burmese border has taken its toll on Thai investments in Burma with Rangoon imposing restrictions on various business transactions and more and more consumers shunning Thai goods.

    During a Monday evening meeting with Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai, about 30 Rangoon-based Thai businessmen called on the government to bring to an end the border tensions as soon as possible.

    "We have been directly affected. We have been told that certain items would be no longer allowed," one Thai businessman said.

    Tensions along the border have spurred the Rangoon government to unleash the state-run press to stir up anti-Thai sentiment among the people, the Thai businessmen claimed. They also acknowledged that Thailand was not completely blameless either, accusing the media and entertainment companies, including television soap operas, of stirring up nationalism for the wrong reasons.

    "We have been taught that to be a good Thai one must hate the Burmese," said the businessman, adding that educators and others must change the perception of Burma as Thailand's historic enemy.

    Surakiart told the businessmen the government would do its utmost to prevent flare-ups from becoming a national issue out of fear public sentiment on both sides would deteriorate further.

    One businessman criticised the Thai Third Army for closing the Mae Sai-Tachilek crossing and imposing other restrictions along the northern border, in an apparent effort to starve out the drug-producing United Wa State Army (UWSA).

    "They said that the closing of the border will starve out the [Wa] ethnic group, but it's the average people who are suffering. Not all measures taken up by the Third Army are working," the businessman said.

    Average Burmese people dependent on Thai consumer goods deemed the border closure as unfair to them, the businessmen warned. Thai-Burma relations have sunk to one of the lowest points in recent times following cross-border shelling over two months ago when fighting between Burmese government troops and Shan rebels spilled across the Thai side of the border.Moreover, Rangoon has accused Thai troops of backing the rebel Shan State Army (SSA) in a recent attack on their outpost at Ban Pachee, adjacent to Chiang Mai's Fang district.

    Nearly 200,000 methamphetamine tablets were found at a Wa camp according to SSA leader Col Yawd Serk, who handed the confiscated drugs over to the Thai army. Rangoon then hit back, claiming the drugs belonged to Thai soldiers.
    SSA says Burma using chemical weapons

    source : The Bangkokpost
    Subin Khuenkaew

    The Shan State Army yesterday accused Burmese troops of using chemical weapons against its soldiers.

    SSA rebels on April 22 seized a Burmese government base at Ban Takhi opposite Ban Nolae in Fang district. Rangoon's troops have been trying to recapture the outpost ever since.

    In a statement, the SSA said its troops had developed rashes and breathing difficulties after being exposed to smoke and dust from Burmese shells. The dust and smoke were mostly from shells which exploded in mid-air. The shells were believed to contain a poisonous substance.

    In Thailand, security has been beefed up on Doi Angkhang, Fang district, after more than 50 shells fired by Burmese soldiers strayed into the area.Army spokesman Maj-Gen Siripong Boonyapat denied the Thai army had shelled Burmese positions along the border to assist the Shan United Revolution Army inside Burma. He said shelling was ordered only at points where Burmese stray artillery hit Thai territory, to warn the Burmese of border violations and protect Thai villagers.

    Maj-Gen Nakhon Sriphetphan, commander of Pha Muang Task Force, said he had been ordered by the Third Army to send a number of soldiers, armed tanks, vehicles and 105mm artillery guns to Doi Angkhang as reinforcements to prevent border incursions and evacuate Thai villagers if necessary. Many 120mm shells fell on a Thai cavalry base at Ban Nolae, causing damage to part of the unit, but there were no casualties, he said.

    The task force was preparing to evacuate residents of Ban Nolae and Ban Khobdong, near the scene of fighting, to temporary shelters at Mae Fa Luang Oppatham School in Ban Pang Khwai. Farming under the royally-initiated Doi Angkhang project has been affected, since most of the employees there come from the two villages.

    The SSA also claimed that on Monday at least 35 Burmese troops were killed and more than 200 wounded in the BP.2 area near Ban Lan border pass in Fang.
    INTERVIEW: Army chief tells of Phop Phra attack

    source : The Nation

    The following excerpts are from an interview with Third Army commander Lt-General Wattanachai Chaimuanwong, by The Nation's Sorayuth Suthasanachinda and Kanok Ratanawongsakun:

    What are the latest developments?

    Peace prevails at Phop Phra. But we are pursuing our attackers.

    How did they carry out the invasion?

    They crossed the Moei river at 4.30am. We had five Thais standing guard over the river at our base. They knew that because standing guards have been in place for a while now. The attackers were defiant. The fired at the base with RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades], small arms and mortars. Three Thais were killed and two others injured. The killings seemed intentional.

    Were your soldiers not casualties from a hot pursuit and killed by stray bullets?

    Thirty soldiers were reported to have invaded the Thai border. Our counterattack prevented them from further penetrating into Thailand. As a result, two of our men were injured.

    What was the cause of the killings?

    One of the possible causes is drugs. We made two major hauls. The affected group was the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, who reportedly inherited the trade from the United Wa State Army. The group hauled the drugs from Burma into Thailand. I believed the drug factories are still there.

    They were avenging the crackdown on their lucrative drug trade then?

    That was part of the story. And there was also a false rumour that a major haul of up to 20 million amphetamine tablets would be transported from Myawaddy to Phop Phra, which appears to have been an attempt to get us off the trail. But we never expected them to be so upset as to launch a fatal attack. This was unprecedented.

    Will the armed stand-off intensify?

    An intensified stand-off will serve them right. This side of the border has reported peace for a long time. Not the Burmese army though, the Karens are allowed to do what they like unopposed - illegal logging, unlicensed mining and narcotics.

    They have no problems with Rangoon?

    Rangoon and the group seem to be on good terms. The group seems to occupy an autonomous zone.

    As reports suggest, Tak's Phop Phra district is a new route for running drugs?

    Definitely. It offers ready access to Northeastern Thailand. The route is easier than trafficking drugs via boat to Laos or Nong Khai, and even easier than trafficking via sea to coastal Ranong.
    CE in Burma, holds talks with Shwe: MoU signed


    YANGOON, May 1: The Chief Executive, General Pervez Musharraf, and the Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council of Myanmar, Senior General Than Shwe, on Tuesday held wide-ranging talks in Yangoon on bilateral co-operation, and regional and international issues.

    The CE who arrived earlier in the day from Islamabad on a three-day official visit, briefed the Myanmar leader about the policies of his government, economic revival and return to democracy in Pakistan.

    General Than Shwe welcoming the chief executive said the visit will help promote co-operation between the two countries. He said contacts between the two were not frequent and these should be geared up with focus on economic co-operation.About regional issues General Than Shwe said Myanmar is keen to promote rapid progress in the region.General Musharraf also held meeting with the Secretary-I (SPDC) Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt.

    Later Pakistan and Myanmar signed a Memorandum of Understanding. Minister for Science and Technology Dr Attaur Rehman and his Myanmar counterpart Mr U-Thaung signed the MoU, under which both agreed on the exchange of students, research, scholars, institutionalizing the arrangements, identifying areas in science and technology and commercially viable science and industrial research.

    The CE earlier visited the mausoleum of Bahadur Shah Zafar in Yangoon, laid wreath and offered fateha. He announced a donation of US$50,000 for its renovation and the construction of another block.-PPI
    Historical Gathering of Exiled Students Underway

    By Tin Maung Htoo Burma Media Association (Canada Branch) 30/4/01

    The first-ever international assembly of exiled Burmese students is to take place in coming June in the United States, a recent press release reported, stating calling the conference is to provide unification and cooperation among separated colleagues and scattering forces around the world.

    But this attempt seems to have some political purposes and brainstorming process while a crucial political development and dialogue in Burma is taking place between pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the ruling Generals.

    Students, often referred to as '8888 generation', are important forces in Burma's democracy movement as it brought into a drive to the restoration of democracy in Burma. In the early stages of 1988, it could topple and paralyze the 26 years old totalitarian regime, however, failed to materialize for what they ultimately aspire after the subsequent installation of a brutal military rule in Burma.

    "We were separated all over the world ... But we still remember why we left our motherland and what our aim was. It is time we need to sit together and thoroughly discuss our country's political situations", avowed in the press.

    While keeping the struggle ahead, hundreds of students completed their higher education abroad that they could not have a chance to fulfil in Burma due to the outbreak of popular uprising and subsequent closure of universities and colleges. According to related sources, thousands of students are now living in United States, Australia, Canada and other countries after taking temporary asylum in Thailand and India.

    Although they were able to consolidate the forces under the similar name and aim of Democratic Burmese Students Organization (DBSO) in U.S., All Burma Students' Democratic Organization (ABSDO) in Australia and Burmese Students' Democratic Organization (BSDO) in Canada, they were far-reaching to bring together to the international stage.

    In recent weeks, it is reported that two preparatory committees have been formed to organize the conference and expected to combine into one major group. The press indicated, "we believe we may reach a resolution and suggestions which may be helpful to consider for the future of Burma."
    Business as usual in Burma despite US sanction

    By KAMARUL YUNUS/NSTP-02 May 2001

    BUSINESS in Myanmar continues to prosper despite the US imposing sanction two years ago, Mandalay Chamber of Commerce and Industry vice chairman Aung Win Khainy said.He said the Myanmar nationals do not seem to be perturbed over the US sanction, which had been imposed to champion human rights and democracy in the country.

    "They (Myanmar nationals) were in no way affected by the sanction as they have alternatives to boost their economic activities, mainly using local resources, especially wood and agriculture products as well as cheap labour," he told Malaysian journalists who were on an eight-day visit to Myanmar since April 22.

    The visit was mooted following the discussion between Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Myanmar's ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council chairman Senior General Than Shwe in January.

    Aung Win Khainy, who is also chairman of Hi-Tech Forest Industries Co Ltd and MCI Mandalay Cement Industries Co Ltd as well as Yadanar Bone Bank director, said the sanction had to some extent strengthened the spirit of local entrepreneurs to work hard.

    "Last year, three American senators met me, wanting to know the impact of the sanction on the Myanmar people."I told them that we are not feeling the pinch.Our exports now go to the Third World countries instead of the Americans.They are the ones who will suffer," he said.

    Aung Win Khainy admitted that the sanction will affect major and high-technology investments.However, he said it would not jeopardise the inflow of investments for small and medium-scale projects which are considered the backbone of Myanmar's economic activities.On whether Myanmar entrepreneurs will be threatened by the influx of foreign investors into the country when it opens its market, he said this will not arise.He added that such a move will create healthy competition be-tween foreign investors and the local entrepreneurs.

    As an Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) member, he said Myanmar has to bear this in mind as the gouping moves towards more liberalised economies when the Asean Free Trade Area (Afta) takes place.

    "The small and medium-scale projects are important to us as we move towards implementing Afta requirements," he said.He said foreigners, especially Malaysians, should capitalise on Myanmar's cheap labour.Salaries given to the locals range between US$10 (US$1 = RM3.80) and US$70 a month.

    Meanwhile, Myanmar Deputy Foreign Minister U Khin Maung Win said Myanmar made a right move to join Asean in 1997."We decided to join because of the basic changes in international relations from the new perspective."In our foreign policy, the neighbouring country is top priority.

    Although we develop through our own efforts, Asean countries can play a role so that we can develop beneficial relations."In view of the increasing pace of globalisation, the role of regional enhancement should be strengthened," he said.

    Myanmar gained independence in 1948 but prior to 1997, it has never been part of a regional group, except under the United Nations banner.

    "We joined Asean in 1997 and that is one of the fundamental changes in our foreign policy," he said.On why Myanmar had not taken steps earlier to join Asean, he said the actual contact was made in 1994 when Myanmar was preparing for membership."But the misinterpretation by the foreign media, especially from the West on the country, hampered our preparations," he said.
    Pakistan, Burma to forge trade relationship between military govts

    Rangoon, May 3 (AFP)

    Pakistan and Burma will forge new trade and commerce links to tighten the bonds between Asia's two military governments, Pakistani leader General Pervez Musharraf said Thursday.

    Before departing for Vietnam at the end of a three-day official visit, Musharraf said the two regimes had plenty in common.

    "The fact that the two of us are a uniform culture means that there's a certain bond between each other," he told reporters.

    "Pakistan certainly wishes to get closer to Myanmar," he said, adding that Burmese leader Senior General Than Shwe shared the sentiment. "The future looks very bright."

    Musharraf said two-way annual trade between Burma and Pakistan currently totalled just 20 million dollars.

    "We want to have better future relations in trade and commerce ... that's why I brought a team with members who could focus on the issue of the economic relationship," he said.

    "The best way to build the relationship is to bring the two private sectors together."

    The delegation, including Science and Technology Minister Ataur Rahman and Export Promotion Bureau chairman Tariq Ikram, discussed cooperation in information technology and biotechnology as well as textiles and agriculture.

    Musharraf said Than Shwe had agreed to make an official visit to Pakistan in the near future, and trips were also being planned by business delegations from each country.

    The Pakistani leader's first official visit to Burma represents a bid by the 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 Burma since 1988, when a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy forces earned it the ire of the international community.

    In a sign of the warming relationship, 800 Pakistani sailors aboard a destroyer, a tanker and a submarine last week made the first foreign naval visit to Burma in 14 years.

    Analysts said that as well as a getting-to-know-you exercise, Musharraf's visit was an opportunity to ensure Pakistan is not left out as India moves to tighten its relationship with Burma.

    "Although India is aiming at balancing power with China, it means the two countries are leaving Pakistan out," said Burma-watcher Chayachoke Chulasiriwongs from Thailand's Chulalongkorn University.

    "Pakistan would like to come into this triangular relationship."

    Burma's official press made much Thursday of the military backgrounds of the two nations, and hailed the visit as a resounding success "which further strengthened the already strong ties."

    "Both General Musharraf and Senior General Than Shwe are soldier-statesmen in their own right, having weathered similar storms and having been given the helmsmenship of state under similar circumstances," the New Light of Myanmar said.

    "The two leaders ... are dedicated soldiers hoisted by the needs of history into the arena of national politics."

    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.
    Pakistan Leader Sees Closer Ties With Burma Regime

    Rangoon, Burma (AP)--Gen. Pervez Musharraf ended the first visit in 16 years by a Pakistan leader to Burma Thursday, confident of expanding ties between the two military governments.

    Musharraf said there was a special solidarity between himself and the Burma's regime leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe as they were both military men, bonded by the culture of "uniform."

    "It is Pakistan's desire to get closer to Myanmar. The future looks bright," Musharraf told a press conference at Rangoon airport, at the end of his three-day stay, before departing for Vietnam.

    "We are desirous of proceeding on a faster track with this mutual relationship in trade, commerce and economy," he said.

    Burma and Pakistan closely cooperate in defense but bilateral trade currently amounts to less than $20 million a year. Both countries face diplomatic isolation as they are governed by unelected military regimes.

    Burma faces sanctions from the West because of its poor human rights record and failure to turn over power to a democratically elected government.

    Musharraf's visit is the first by a Pakistani head of government since that of military ruler Zia-ul Haq in 1985. Only leaders of Southeast Asian countries and the prime minister of China, which is Burma's closest ally, have visited in the past 13 years.

    Musharraf invited Than Shwe to make a reciprocal visit to Pakistan.

    During this week's visit, the two leaders witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding for cooperation in science and technology.

    Close relations with Pakistan are often seen as the result of uneasy relations between Burma and India, Pakistan's archenemy. Pakistan is believed to supply small arms to Burma.

    But a visit by Burma's army chief Gen. Maung Aye last year signaled a thaw in relations with India.
    Drug fight comes first over forging ties with Burma, says Thai PM

    Source : Bangkok Post

    Fighting drugs will take priority over forging ties with Burma, the prime minister said yesterday as Burma embarrassed visiting Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai.

    Rangoon accused Thai troops of planting drugs and accepting US military support even as Mr Surakiart held talks with his Burmese counterpart Win Aung.

    Security officials claimed Thailand began backing rebel attacks after receiving pledges of military support from the United States.

    The exchange comes after pro-Rangoon Karen rebels attacked a Thai military outpost in Tak's Phop Phra district on Tuesday, leaving three Thai civilians dead.

    That clash, and a massive drug haul seized by the Third Army last week, appear to have triggered Burma's outburst which deals a blow to the Thaksin government's hopes of closer relations.

    Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said yesterday no amount of handshaking with Rangoon would compromise his stand on drugs.

    Drug suppression efforts would get first priority even at the expense of harming already sour relations, he said. In Rangoon, Lt-Col San Pwint, a member of the Office of Strategic Services, said Thailand was unable to solve its domestic drug problem, and was therefore "deliberately launching a dirty campaign to defame Burma by overrunning military outposts".

    He said troops were also planting drugs at abandoned Burmese government outposts, seizing them, and claiming they came from Burma, to imply the drug trade had official backing.

    The Third Army, meanwhile, said the Phop Phra assault by the Rangoon-backed Democratic Karen Buddhist Army was unprecedented.

    Lt-Gen Wattanachai Chaimuenwong, the commander, said the attack was probably linked to the Third Army's seizure of millions of methamphetamines in Phop Phra last week.

    Around 15 million methamphetamine tablets were taken in a Third Army suppression drive late last month.

    Lt-Gen Wattanachai said it was the first time DKBA guerrillas had launched an assault on a Thai military outpost.

    "They might want to avenge our seizure of millions of methamphetamines," he said. Rangoon, he said, had given DKBA guerrillas permission to operate freely at the border area opposite Phop Phra, which is rich in logging, mining and drugs.

    He said around 30 DKBA guerrillas had intentionally attacked the outpost, clearly in violation of Thai sovereignty.

    Intelligence reports suggested that another batch of methamphetamines, some 20 million pills, was being prepared for passage to Thailand.

    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.

    The government blames Burma for a massive influx of methamphetamines that it considers a threat to national security.

    It says Burma's military government turns a blind eye while ethnic minority groups produce the drugs and smuggle them across the border.

    Burma sees it differently. "Since visits by US officials to Thailand, the Thai army has mounted attacks along the border," said San Pwint.

    "Putting ethnic rebels in the front, the Thai army has consistently assisted rebels along the border since February, attacking small military outposts." In a briefing last week, a US military spokesman said US Special Forces troops were training Thai troops, not serving with them. Foreign Ministry spokesman Norachit Sinhaseni said accusations that Thai forces planted drugs were "groundless" and did not merit a response.
    Burma Troops Recapture Camp From Shan Rebels

    BANGKOK (AP)--Burmese troops early Thursday recaptured a military outpost on the Thai-Burmese border from Shan rebels after two weeks of heavy fighting, the rebels and Thai officials said.

    The Shan State Army, or SSA, withdrew from the Pachee camp at 4 a.m. local time Thursday after heavy mortar shelling by Burmese government forces, said a senior SSA rebel.

    Arthit Jittangwong, chief of civil defense in Fang district, Chiang Mai province, about 800 kilometers north of Bangkok, said Burmese soldiers were now occupying the camp and nearby hilltops.

    SSA overran Pachee camp, which lies within a few hundred meters of the Thai border, April 22. They killed six Burmese soldiers and seized 170,000 methamphetamines in the raid.

    The incident provoked a war of words between Thailand and Burma, after Burma accused Thai forces of fighting alongside the Shan.

    Rangoon has also claimed that Thailand has been planting illegal drugs at abandoned Burma's government military outposts to make it appear that there is official involvement in the drug trade.

    Relations between the two countries are at their lowest in years, principally over the trafficking of vast amounts of methamphetamine drugs from border regions of Burma which Thailand says the Burma's regime is doing little to stop.

    Tensions at the border developed into a direct armed confrontation in February, when at least five Thai and Burmese civilians were killed. Earlier this week, three Thai villagers were killed in a cross-border raid by ethnic fighters allied to Rangoon.

    Thai Foreign Minister Surakiat Sathirathai, who returned late Wednesday from a three-day visit to Burma, has urged calm, saying that border disputes would be resolved through talks.

    Yet Lt. Gen. Wattanachai Chaimuanwong, the regional army commander for northern Thailand, told an army radio station Thursday that Burma kept firing accusations at Thailand and was stalling on restarting talks to resolve the two countries' differences at the border.

    "They (Myanmar) keep accusing us every day, and as well as that, Yangon has ordered the border troops to attack us," he said, referring to this week's raid on a Thai village.

    Opposite Pachee camp, the sound of gunfire had now died down.

    But the situation was still not safe enough for more than 600 hill tribe villagers who had been evacuated from the border to return home, said Arthit, the civil defense official.

    The SSA senior rebel said its 200 fighters had retreated to the west of Pachee. They had suffered two dead and 14 wounded in two weeks. He claimed Burmese casualties had been much higher, but could not put a figure on it. Burma has yet to comment.
    Pakistan's Port Calls to Burma Stoke Tension

    Source : Far Eastern economic Review

    Unprecedented visits to Burmese ports by Pakistani and Chinese vessels are causing concern among defence planners in India, say Asian intelligence officials.

    Burma's miltary government has always said no foreign naval vessels would be permitted to visit the country's ports, but no less than three Pakistani naval vessels--a submarine, a tanker and a destroyer--arrived in Rangoon prior to Pakistani leader Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf's landmark May 1-3 visit, the officials note.

    Furthermore, a Chinese submarine is currently visiting Sittwe in western Burma's Arakan state ahead of a visit by a high-powered Chinese military delegation. The two countries are keen to persuade Burma's military rulers not to get close to their main regional rival, India, say the officials, adding that the visits also reflect an internal power struggle.

    India has recently been trying to improve ties with Burma and Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh visited in February to discuss closer cooperation, while Burma's army chief Gen. Maung Aye paid two visits to India last year. But powerful intelligence chief Lt.-Gen. Khin Nyunt, seen as a rival to the army chief, is believed to be pro-China and he paid a highly publicized visit to Pakistan in June last year.
    Philippines Vice President Says He Was Refused Audience With Suu Kyi

    MANILA (AP)--Vice President Teofisto Guingona said Thursday he sought an audience with democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi during a visit to Burma early this week but was turned down.

    Guingona said many Philippine pro-democracy groups appealed to him to seek a meeting with Suu Kyi and he relayed their request to Burma's Foreign Minister Win Aung, who didn't oblige.

    Win Aung replied the Burmese government has started a dialogue with Suu Kyi's group in an bid to foster reconciliation, Guingona said.

    "We don't want confrontation with the lady so she herself has expressed that it is better at this time not to have outsiders visit," Guingona quoted Win Aung as saying.

    He said he was satisfied with the explanation.

    Guingona, who also serves as foreign secretary, attended on Monday an informal retreat at a golf course of 10 foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

    Burma's military junta has faced intense Western criticism and private complaints by other Asean members over its handling of the democracy issue.

    It refused to honor the results of the 1990 general elections that were won by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party. Instead, it has severely restricted the political activities of the NLD, and kept Suu Kyi under virtual house arrest since Sept. 22.

    Hopes have been raised of a change in attitude of the junta after it started the talks with Suu Kyi's group in October.

    Asean comprises Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam.
    Thailand, Burma Agree To High-Level Meeting On Rifts

    BANGKOK (AP)--Thailand and Burma have agreed to a meeting of their senior officials in an attempt to end border clashes and angry words that have soured their relations.

    The agreement was reached during Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai's three-day visit to Burma that ended Wednesday, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement Thursday.

    It said the meeting, which has been postponed for two years, will be held in Bangkok, with details to be worked out soon.

    Foreign Ministry spokesman Norachit Sinhaseni said the meeting is expected to take place after the annual gathering of the foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, scheduled for July in Vietnam.

    While in Burma, Surakiart met with Foreign Minister Win Aung and Secretary One Khin Nyunt, a top general in the ruling junta. The Foreign Ministry statement said Surakiart discussed the reasons for tensions between the two countries, and both sides agreed to solve problems.

    It said Win Aung has agreed to visit Thailand in the near future. When he comes, it would be the first official visit by a Burmese minister to Thailand in three years.

    Relations between the two countries are at their lowest in years, principally because of the trafficking of vast amounts of methamphetamine drugs from border regions of Burma, which Thailand says the Burmese regime is doing little to stop.

    Tensions at the border spilled into a direct armed confrontation in February when at least five Thai and Burmese civilians were killed. Earlier this week, three Thai villagers were killed in a cross-border raid by ethnic fighters allied to Rangoon.